Berkeley gives city manager power to issue rules for unpermitted protests

Yukun Zhang/Staff

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After a heated public comment session, Berkeley City Council passed a contentious urgency ordinance at its special meeting Friday that will allow the city manager to issue temporary regulations regarding weapons or hazardous items at unpermitted street events.

The ordinance was drafted in light of several violent unpermitted demonstrations that have occurred recently in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, notably on March 4, April 15 and April 27. Previously, the city manager could only issue regulations within the boundaries of the park, but with this new ordinance, regulations may now be made on streets and sidewalks. This ordinance comes nine days before an alt-right “No to Marxism in America” rally is scheduled to occur in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park.

During the meeting’s public comment session, approximately 30 commenters expressed vehement opposition to the ordinance, condemning its language and its urgency. Several commenters also criticized the city of Berkeley’s recent advisements that community members “stay away” from the scheduled rally Aug. 27, stating that it was their right to assemble peacefully in protest of the alt-right demonstration.

“They want something to stop people from walking around the streets and the sidewalks with sticks. … You can do that, you don’t have to write an ordinance,” said Berkeley resident J.P. Massar during public comment.

Massar added that he believed it was “not the city’s business” to urge community members to stay away from certain parts of the city.

Moriel Vandsburger, a UC Berkeley assistant professor of bioengineering, said during public comment that he supported the ordinance. Vandsburger, who previously lived in Charlottesville, said he believed police presence was necessary to enforce public safety.

“I want to go and counterprotest with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and I want to know that the city is doing everything it needs to to keep us safe,” Vandsburger said.

During the meeting, councilmembers debated the clarity of the ordinance’s language, as well as its potential impact on future demonstrations in the city of Berkeley. Councilmembers Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn both said they agreed with the general intent of the ordinance, but added that they felt modifications to the language were necessary to make it less broad.

Councilmember Cheryl Davila, however, said she opposed the ordinance, stating that she felt it was “dangerous.”

“I just have to bring it back to my childhood. … Things wouldn’t have changed unless we were out in the streets,” Davila said. “I think this ordinance can be used against us.”

Mayor Jesse Arreguín said the city was “absolutely committed” to the public’s welfare, adding that he was confident in the Berkeley Police Department’s ability to enforce safety.

Around 5 p.m., two hours into the meeting, Arreguín called a five-minute recess of the council, after several meeting attendees began openly expressing their outrage towards the ordinance. When the council reconvened, it voted on a slightly modified version of the ordinance, with clarifications made to minimize broadness in the language.

The ordinance passed with Davila in opposition and Councilmember Kriss Worthington absent.

Harini Shyamsundar is the university news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hshyamsundar.