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4. Circumstances Related to Free Speech and Press Conference Held June 24, 2022 8200 Westminster City of Westminster Boulevard Westminster, California 92683 Staff Report File #:22-120,Item #:4.Meeting Date:July 1, 2022 Westminster City Council SUBJECT ..Title Circumstances Related to Free Speech and Press Conference Held June 24, 2022. ..End From:Christine Cordon, City Manager Prepared by:Christian L. Bettenhausen, City Attorney ____________________________________________________________ RECOMMENDED ACTION ..Recommendation Staffrecommends that theMayor and City Councildiscuss the circumstances and provide direction. BACKGROUND On Friday, June 24, 2022, City Council Member Chi Charlie Nguyen held a press conference to announce his candidacy in front of the City Hall building located at 8200 Westminster Blvd. Multiple members of the City Council have requested an opportunity to discuss the circumstances surrounding the press conference and whether it was legal, warranted a special event permit, or used any public resources. On Wednesday, June 22, 2022, shortly after the end of the council meeting, Council Member Nguyen reached out to the city attorney to ask if he was legally allowed to hold a press conference in front of City Hall to announce his candidacy for mayor. Legal counsel added the city manager to the call because he felt her input was needed and because he needed to determine if there were any special policies that had been adopted governing that area. It was confirmed that currently there are no city adopted rules that govern how and when the area in front of City Hall can be used. City of WestminsterPage 1of 4 2 File #:22-120,Item #:4.Meeting Date:July 1, 2022 The initial discussion concerned the need for a special events permi code if the event was going to be large or if it was going to require any city services or support (e.g. Police, fire, public works, etc.). The council memberindicated that it would only involve 15-20 people and that no city assets or services would be involved. The impression was that it would be a short speech near the steps. It was further determined that the area in front of City Hall has a history of being used for a wide variety of First Amendment activity. Over the years, membersof the community have used the front of City Hall for protests and press conferences, including Black Lives Matter movements, press conference by attorneys when they sued the City of Westminster, recall petition-related conferences, as well as other pressconferences by the City and public officials. It is also relevant that under the federal constitutional law,parks and streets are considered traditional public forums, and the entire Civic Center is essentially treated as a park. That being said, under the Constitution,the City is allowed to adopt reasonable time, place, and manner regulations. Those rules must be content-neutral, meaning they cannot be based on what the speaker is saying. The regulation has to apply equally to everyone, and not target a particular kind of speech unless it meets a strictscrutiny standard. It also cannot be overly burdensome, and you need to ask whether there are less restrictive ways the same protections can be provided with the goal of protecting speak. With respect to public officials, as a general rule,they are treated the same as anyone else when it comes to public forums. An official does not lose their First Amendment rights when they are elected. However, the law explicitly states that public officials are not allowed any special privileges because they are elected. In the performance of their duties,public officials often have access to City employees, equipment,and buildings which the public does not have access to. Public officials are forbidden from using anything paid for by the City, including access to City employees, for their private or political purposes. But if an area is open to anyone who wants to speak there, the public officials right to use that area is the same as it wouldbe for anyone else. They just cannot receive a special privilege given their position. In the circumstances surrounding the June 24, 2022 press conference, Council Member Nguyen indicated that the event would be short and would only include 15-20 people, and no City resources would be involved. In light of the historical use of the site as a public forum, and the lack of any City rules governing the location, he was advised that they did not see any restriction on his ability to use it. He was explicitlytold a number of times that his use of the space was expressly subject to his compliance with certain legal restrictions, which the City would also require of anyone in the public. Specifically, he was advised that he needed to comply with each of the following requirements: Page 2of 4 City of Westminster 3 File #:22-120,Item #:4.Meeting Date:July 1, 2022 going to be large, or if it would require any City resources (such as police, public works, fire, etc.). He indicated only 15-20 people would be present. He had to keep the sidewalks clear at all times, and had to make sure not to impression was that the speech would occur somewhere near the steps, similar to that of a courthouse press conference. He was also advised to avoid having anyone stand in the street/parking lot to avoid blocking traffic. He had to make sure not to use any City resources whatsoever as part of his speech. (e.g. anything owned by the City, or anything paid for with city funds). It was made clear that under state law, public officials are prohibited from using any public resources for political purposes. He was advised not to include the City seal or logo in any photos. This was to avoid giving the false impression that the City was somehow endorsing his To summarize, given that this area has a history for public speech, and the fact the City has not adopted any rules governing the use of this area, the City is limited on what it can do to prohibit speech at this location. Anyone in the public would have the same right as long as the rules mentioned above arecomplied with. The City Council may want to consider the adoption of some reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on the use the front of City Hall. If they are generally applicable, and not overly burdensome on free speech they would likely be upheld. For example,it may be prudent to consider adopting a reasonable buffer around City Hall to prevent speakers from locating themselves too close to the building, which might inhibit traffic to and from the building. Alternatively,a free speech zonecould be designated. The areas inside City buildings, such as City Hall, the Council Chambers, or at the Public Works Yard, are treated completely differently. Each location has different rules under the First Amendment depending on how that area has traditionally been used. Most City buildings are not open to the public at all times, so they are not treated as public forums in the same way or at all. With respect to the Council Chambers, that is a limited public forum, which means the City is allowed to adopt rules on howand when free speech can occur. For example, speech occurs only during posted public meetings when the building is open, speech is usually limited to only 5 minutesand must only dings are treated completely differently under the First Amendment than areas outside which are open to the public, and have a history of free speech activity. Page 3of 4 City of Westminster 4 File #:22-120,Item #:4.Meeting Date:July 1, 2022 Finally, it is important to mention that political speech, which is what was at issue in this case, is a highly protected form of speech under the First Amendment. It does not fall within a lesser category of speech simply because the speaker is a politician. The speaker, however, must follow the same rules applicable to everyone. The council is free to discuss the incident, and whether the rules which were provided were followed in this case. FISCAL IMPACT No fiscal impact related to the discussion of this item. LEGAL REVIEW CONCLUSION The City Council may provide direction based on the discussion. ATTACHMENTS None. REVIEWED BY Erin Backs, Finance Director Christian Bettenhausen, City Attorney Christine Cordon,City Manager Page 4of 4 City of Westminster 5