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The use of profanity and other boisterous language during Laguna Beach City Council meetings will no longer be criminalized as a misdemeanor.
Editors’ Note: This dispatch is part of the Voice of OC Youth Media program, working with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Digital Editor Sonya Quick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The council at its April 6 meeting voted on an ordinance unanimously repealing a 1953 municipal code which states: “Any member of the council, or other person using profane, vulgar, or boisterous language at any meeting, or otherwise interrupting the proceedings, or who refuses to be seated, or cease his remarks when ordered so to do by the mayor or mayor pro tem, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”
Council members agreed with staff recommendation that the provision was outdated. City Attorney Philip Kohn noted that statutory developments and court decisions left certain provisions unenforceable, according to a city staff report.
“Members of the council were asked to invoke this provision before in the past in connection with the use of certain language that was expressed at City Council meetings. It was the position of our office at that time and it is our position today that those provisions of the code section are invalid,” Kohn said at the meeting earlier this month.
Some, like Councilman George Weiss, questioned the timing of the repeal which came following a meeting last month during which Councilman Peter Blake was censured at Weiss’s request.
“Are we going through a spring cleaning of ordinances that are old? There’s probably a lot of them I imagine,” said Weiss, asking why only this one ordinance was being repealed following the censure.
However, Kohn stated that he is the one who brought up the repeal before the council at this time and that the timing was “entirely coincidental” and “had nothing whatsoever to do with the recent proceedings on censure.”
Some of the residents who spoke during the public hearing also questioned the repeal and its timing.
“Is this ordinance elimination a means to give cover to misbehaving City Council members, specifically Peter Blake? It sure looks that way. Please consider reviewing all city ordinances. That would be a good thing to do and should be done periodically,” resident Michele Monda said.
Blake’s censure dominated the discussion despite city staff arguing that the timing of the ordinance was a coincidence.
Blake said he doesn’t remember one time when he had used foul language in the council chamber.
“We’re witnessing cancel culture at its best right now,” he added.
“This is less than 30 days since I became the punching bag over the censure charade. Now all of a sudden, I’m becoming the punching bag one more time,” Blake said.
Earlier in the meeting, Weiss asked what are the other possibilities of enforcement against foul language.
“We’re throwing this out so there is really no recourse other than censure for the use of foul language and I find that difficult to understand,” Weiss said.
Kohn said that the use of foul language during City Council meetings would still be addressable following the repeal “through the rules of decorum and the civility policy.”
If language at meetings is accompanied by behavior that is disruptive to the normal course of action, it could still be considered a criminal offense under the California penal code, according to the city staff report.
Weiss said there needs to be stronger rules of decorum against foul language but voted to repeal the provision along with the rest of the council.
The City Council is expected to take a final vote on the repeal ordinance Tuesday.
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