Long Beach could begin updating parts of its municipal code dealing with public meetings Tuesday, including aligning with a new state law that more clearly defines when a person can be removed for being disruptive.
Senate Bill 1100 was signed into law earlier this year and lays out how people can be ejected from a meeting for “actually disturbing or impeding” it. The chair of the meeting, which would be the mayor for Long Beach City Council meetings, would have to warn the person and if the behavior persists they could be removed.
The bill was authored by state Sen. Dave Cortese (San Jose) who said that he was inspired to act because of the attacks that a mayor in neighboring Los Gatos endured when protestors used anti-LGBTQ and anti-vaccine rhetoric toward her last year.
The required warning does not apply to actual threats of violence. Public bodies already have the authority to clear a meeting room under the Ralph M. Brown Act, a state law that governs public meeting bodies.
Long Beach has not had to clear a meeting in recent memory, but Los Angeles has used the tactic recently to empty out its council chambers and resume the meeting without the public present.
Mayor Robert Garcia requested the update to the municipal code, including the removal of the requirement for people to state their name and address before giving public comment, something he said in a memo some people view as a barrier because they’re fearful of disclosing their identities.
City Attorney Charlie Parkin said that his office could end up updating more parts of the municipal code, including portions that still refer to the mayor and council members as “he” and a portion that lays out rules for decorum.
That part forbids “lewd, vicious or personal language” and gives the chair the power to deny the public the floor if speakers use it.
“They’ve gotta have thicker skin, and we’ve had that conversation,” Parkin said of officials and his advice to them to not enforce that provision. “I’ve told them they can ask that they don’t use that language, but if they want to ‘MF’ people, they can do that.”
When it comes to SB-1100, Parkin said that he agreed it was necessary to update the municipal code so everyone knows the rules and what could trigger removal from a meeting.
But Parkin clarified that it’s his interpretation that it would have to be a truly disruptive action to trigger the provisions of the new law. He said he’s advised the mayor that the city needs to take a measured approach to enforce it.
“What we need to do is take a pause and a short recess and hopefully things calm down,” Parkin said. “And if they don’t calm down then the police can talk to the person or persons.”
Long Beach has tried to address protest behavior in the past. The City Council asked last year for an ordinance to be designed that prohibits protests from occurring within 300 feet of a subject’s home.
The request came after former LA City Council president Nury Martinez made the same request when protestors targeted her home. Martinez has since resigned amid the fallout of a racist leaked audio scandal that has rocked regional politics.
While LA eventually implemented its protest buffer, Long Beach has yet to vote on its ordinance.
Tuesday’s vote would instruct Parkin’s office to prepare a new ordinance that would align the city’s municipal code with SB-1100 but would still require two additional votes by the City Council to adopt it.