The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors directed staff at its Tuesday meeting to draft an ordinance that would repeal the 2012 ordinance which set restrictions on the courthouse campsites like those of the Occupy movement.
With the county Human Rights Commission listing a number of state laws that already provide similar restrictions in a staff report, 2nd District Supervisor Estelle Fennell said there was no need for a separate county ordinance.
"I think it's important for us to honor the time-honored tradition of peaceful assembly," Fennell said. "I don't believe it's necessary to have an ordinance like ordinance 2488 on the books."
Passed in a 4-1 vote -- with 1st District Supervisor and Board Chairman Rex Bohn dissenting -- the newly drafted ordinance would remove the language of ordinance 2488 from the county code. Ordinance 2488 was one of two ordinances the county passed to address health and safety concerns of the Occupy movement's campsites that took up most of the courthouse lawn in 2011 and 2012.
The first ordinance -- 2477, passed in March 2012 -- included prohibitions on camping and the erecting of structures on the courthouse grounds, as well as set time restrictions for assemblies. Ordinance 2477 drew public outcry due to the number of arrests made by local law enforcement as a result of its passage.
After working with the county Human Rights Commission and other groups, the board passed ordinance 2488 in October 2012. Ordinance 2488 retained most of 2477's language, but differed in that it removed the assembly curfew at the courthouse and added language regulating when and what types of structures are allowed.
Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace said the passage of ordinance 2488 "was a reaction."
"Creating a law as a reaction can make for bad law," Lovelace said.
Nearly a dozen people were at the board's chamber to speak in favor of repealing ordinance 2488, arguing that it infringed on rights to free speech.
James Decker, of Eureka, said the ordinance was "arbitrarily written and arbitrarily enforced."
"Bad laws generate bad outcomes," Decker said. "Your ordinance has criminalized the political activity when the people that are governed deigned to come and complain."
Eureka resident Jerry Martien was one of many who spoke out against the heavy law enforcement presence and the multiple arrests that occurred during the movement.
"There is a lot to do, you make your plan, get to work," Martien said. "Please repeal the ordinance, adopt the guidelines. You have a serious remodeling job on your hands."
Arcata resident Dave Meserve said the ordinance "clearly abridges freedom of speech" by not allowing camping.
"The Occupy movement by its very definition is communicating through the act of camping on public property," Meserve said. "That is a form of communication that should not be impeded by any laws."
Bohn said he was against repealing the ordinance because existing state and federal laws did not stop the protesters from setting up campsites when the movement began in 2011.
"I'd be happy to repeal everything if it didn't turn into a KOA out front," Bohn said. "This has nothing to do with First Amendment rights; it has to do with the camping in the front of the courthouse."
By repealing the ordinance, 4th District Supervisor Virginia Bass said that she hopes that future protesters will recognize what is allowable in front of the courthouse.
"I am asking the people who are out there in groups to help us," Bass said. "Help us keep and maintain the civility that we need so we don't have to come back and don't have to invoke parts of the recommendations or go to extremes."
Along with repealing the ordinance, the commission also recommended the board adopt a policy statement which contained state and federal laws addressing the concerns that led to ordinance 2488's passage.
After a discussion of some of the legal ramifications of adopting the policy in its entire form, the board unanimously voted to direct supervisors Bohn and Lovelace to work with County Counsel and the county Administrative Office to draft a policy statement to go before the board at a future meeting.
Later in the meeting, the board unanimously voted to cancel its April 7 General Plan update meeting and focus its April 21 and May 5 GPU meetings on the plan's Housing Element, rather than the Open Space and Conservation Elements.
Planning and Building Department staff recommended that the board delay discussion of the Open Space and Conservation Elements until September in order for the board to attend a previously scheduled zoning and mapping meeting in Southern Humboldt set for August.
Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said switching the schedule would make it more difficult for the public to keep track of what elements the board was reviewing.
"At least people would have a general idea of where we would be going to be at and how far we got that night," he said. "They wouldn't have to guess."
The Housing Element -- currently being reviewed by the county planning commission -- must be submitted to the State Department of Housing and Community Development by July 1. If that deadline is missed, the county will less competitive when it comes to certain grants, or be barred from applying for them altogether.