Brea Targets Downtown Protest Rallies With Far-Reaching Ordinance

Any activist wanting to hold a protest in downtown Brea drawing a few dozen or more like-minded people may have to endure a new, heavily-regulated permitting process. This evening, city council will consider the benignly-titled “Public Assembly Ordinance” during its meeting, but liberal groups and labor unions who’ve protested outside Republican Congressman Ed Royce’s downtown office are already decrying the effort as chilling crackdown on the First Amendment. “This is an effort to silence Royce’s constituents,” says Ada Briceño, co-president of Unite Here Local 11. “Brea should not be covering up for him. It’s absolutely unacceptable.”

The proposed law forbids any non-permitted protest of at least 30 people on public property in downtown. The same goes for gatherings larger than 75 people outside the area. Obtaining a permit would entail a slew of new requirements. Under the ordinance, activists have to file an application with the city manager no less than four days before their event—so much for spontaneous protests! Not only would organizers have to pay a permit application fee, but they’d also have to foot the bill for the police response and any other city service related to the action.

Briceño has protested all around OC with Unite Here—including in civil disobedience actions—and can’t recall a time since 2001 when the union ever footed a bill from a local city for any associated costs. More recently, Unite Here helped organize 200 people, including Service Employee International Union-United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW) members, outside Royce’s office in late October for a national day of action in defense of Temporary Protected Status immigrants. During the demonstration, Daniel Wenzek became agitated and drove his car through an intersection, pinning protesters on his hood.

Some protesters deemed the incident an ISIS-style “terrorist act.” Police later arrested Wenzek for assault with a deadly weapon. Briceño surmises that the scene—and the publicity it generated—may have played a role in the ordinance’s emergence.
But downtown Brea hasn’t been home to pitched street battles between antifa and the alt-right, so what gives for the biggest fuss over protests in the city since Fox News’ Sean Hannity singled out peace vigils against the Iraq War on Brea Boulevard as being “unpatriotic” more than a decade ago?  The ordinance doesn’t note any specific action for the increase in bureaucratic hurdles, but does note that downtown “is a unique, compact pedestrian-friendly area devoted to shopping, entertainment and dining uses,” before adding that permits for actions in the area must be more burdensome because “public assemblies…can be unreasonably disruptive with fewer participants.”

The cleverly-crafted ordinance offers exemptions for gatherings at city hall plaza and permit fee waivers for organizers on public assistance programs. But anyone who intentionally violates its provisions would be subject to a misdemeanor offense. Protesters are also subjected to all kinds of prohibited items under the draft ordinance like gas masks, projectile launchers, and wood that’s more than a foot long and wider than two inches. They also would have to follow traffic control cops and be disallowed from even lighting a candle—so much for peaceful candlelight vigils!

Another group taking issue with Brea’s proposed crackdown on protest rallies includes the liberals of Indivisible CA-39. They’ve congregated outside of Royce’s office on multiple occasions since forming in January to criticize the congressman for voting in line with Trump Administration 95 percent of the time. “We’re a grassroots, all-volunteer organization,” says Viviana Martinez, co-chair of the group’s action committee. “None of us are rich or wealthy, unlike Mr. Royce, and can afford to fork over money to pay for police. We’re taxpayers and through our taxes, we’ve already paid for that.” Martinez recalls all her group’s actions, whether big or small, to have been orderly without any overbearing ordinance needed. Both Indivisible CA-39 and Unite Here plan on packing council chambers this evening. “We definitely have advocated for Brea residents in our group to come to the meeting and voice their concerns,” says Martinez, a Rowland Heights resident in Royce’s district. “We need them to help the rest of us who aren’t living in Brea but who are going to be greatly affected by their actions.”

The Weekly asked Brea city council members for comment, but received no response. According to a staff report, they unanimously introduced the ordinance on Dec. 5 before its scheduled second reading this evening.

Briceño criticizes the timing coming right before Christmas. “This should really open the eyes of all social justice organizations,” she says. “If this kind of thing wants to start in Brea, we should make sure that it never gets that chance.”

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