The ACLU of Southern California and the First Amendment Coalition are calling out the Huntington Beach City Council and its newly elected members over a proposed ban on anonymous code enforcement complaints. 

The groups argue the ban may land the city in legal trouble.

The proposed ban comes at the request of Surf City’s new Mayor Tony Strickland, who said it was an effort to protect businesses from unfounded complaints. 

“Business owners were placed under unnecessary stress and pressure to make corrections and/or face fines because of the basis of the anonymous complaints,” Strickland wrote in a memo to the council. 

To read the full memo, click here

But Peter Eliasburg, chief counsel for the ACLU and First Amendment Coalition’s Legal Director, David Loy, say otherwise. 

“An ordinance barring anonymous complaints would raise serious constitutional concerns about the right to petition and the right to anonymous speech, both of which are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution,” reads a Monday letter signed by Eliasburg and Loy. 

The HB council is expected to consider the proposal at Tuesday’s 6 p.m. public meeting

In his memo, Strickland said some business owners faced complaints after they hosted political events, arguing that the business owners perceived it as harassment and “a violation of their exercise of free speech.”

The proposed ban would require any complaint to carry a name, including city employees and that complaints be made in person at city hall.

“The intake of the complaint shall include a copy of the individual’s driver’s license or other form of ID with a full name, address, and photo of the individual,” reads Strickland’s memo.

If approved, city attorney Michael Gates would come back with more specific guidelines at a future meeting. 

The proposed ban comes the same month Strickland and three other city council candidates endorsed by Orange County’s Republican party were sworn into office – creating a new majority on the council.

[Read: Republicans on Track to Retake Huntington Beach City Council]

Strickland argues that Huntington Beach Business owners are the “the community’s treasures” and that the ban is in line with the Sixth Amendment “​​where individuals have a right to face their accuser.”

“While the 6th Amendment involves individuals in a criminal context, here I am concerned about ensuring that only legitimate concerns involving a business are addressed through a proper process,” he wrote in his memo.

But Eliasburg and Loy argue that the reasoning is a misunderstanding of the protections of the Sixth Amendment.

“Neither the Sixth Amendment or any other provision of the Constitution prohibits a law enforcement agency or any governmental actor from initiating an investigation based on a complaint of wrongdoing from someone who submits an anonymous complaint,” they wrote in their letter.

“We urge the Council to pull the agenda item and not draft an ordinance that will raise significant constitutional concerns and may subject the city to legal action.”

Tuesday’s 6 p.m. meeting features a packed agenda, with a proposal to give City Attorney Michael Gates a raise.

Newly elected Councilman Casey McKeon is proposing to challenge the state’s mandated housing numbers

And newly elected Councilwoman Gracey Van der Mark is pushing to reinstate anti-camping and anti-loitering laws on homeless people throughout the city.

Van der Mark has faced controversy over the years – she’s been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League in the past for making racist, anti-semitic and islamophobic comments on social media. 

Strickland is also considering appointing Van der Mark to the city’s human relations commission. 

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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