El Monte has become the latest L.A. County City to limit engagement between residents and members of local government. At the October 5th, 2021, meeting, the City Council voted 3-2 to move forward with a 300-foot “buffer zone” between protestors and the homes of elected officials.
Yet, it appears that the elected officials of the City Council did not actually seek this outcome. When the public hearing opened, Mayor Jessica Ancona asked “How did this item come to our agenda?” to which City Manager Alma Martinez responded “This is a matter of safety for the Council. This is something the City Attorney and myself have been working on.”
The placing of items on a public meeting agenda is an opaque, but important process in California’s local politics. Usually, voters assume that their elected officials will be able to place items on the agenda in order to rally support of other Council Members. But the reality is often much more anti-democratic.
Some cities, like the City of Paramount, require Council Members to garner majority support from the majority of their colleagues if they want to place an item on the agenda. But in other cities, like El Monte, the agenda items seem to be dictated by unelected bureaucrats.
Community voices in opposition
Speaking against the item, El Monte resident Cosme Jimenez, who has faced censorship attempts by City Attorney Rick Olivarez said, “I want to mention a few names so you can put the dots together. Hilda Solis, Andre Quintero, and Jerry Velasco. Do those names sound familiar? The people who were protesting protested their houses. Hilda is watching this meeting right now.”
Although Quintero and Velasco are no longer public officials, Hilda Solis is an El Monte resident, as well as President of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, presiding over a 38 billion dollar budget larger than most U.S. states. As a consequence, Solis is the most powerful politician in the region. Since the beginning of the pandemic, she has been protested by working-class families seeking justice against policy brutality as well as high rents.
El Monte resident Gabriel Ramirez said, “When the people protest, it’s for a reason. If you do your job, you won’t get protested, we’ll respect you. But if you decide to go against the people and you start working for special interests, prepare for the consequences.”
Another El Monte resident, Irma Zamorano, said that she has repeatedly asked for a meeting with Solis, but that she never hears back from staff. The one time that Solis opened the door to Zamorano, Solis shut the door as soon as she recognized Zamorano.
City Council clamps down on protesting activity
City Council Member Martin Herrera, who has faced accusations of violating First Amendment rights, said “I’m going to support it because it’s equal protection not just for public officials, but for people in our audience who could at any time be targeted at their residential dwelling.”
Mayor Ancona said, “It can be considered an abuse of power to pass such an ordinance when people are allowed their First Amendment right to protest and freedom of speech,” and asked Police Chief David Reynoso if residents could still call for a noise ordinance violation, to which Reynoso replied in the affirmative. Ancona ended her comments by saying, “I don’t think that criminalizing First Amendment rights is the right way to go here in our City.”
Finally, Mayor Pro Tem Alma Puente asked a range of legal questions, including the probability of prior case law that the anti-picketing ordinance is based on being overturned. Assistant City Attorney Richard Padilla said “when you have a case that’s stood for a long time and hasn’t really generated a lot of opinion. That case has withstood the test of time.” Political Life notes Padilla’s selective telling of history; major cases do become overturned, especially when the public becomes engaged around the issue.
Council chooses to punish private citizens
The ordinance brings forth a key path for new litigation: Why should elected officials, or anyone, have the privilege of moving a targeted protest 300 feet away, to someone else’s front door? Such an ordinance privileges the preservation of “peace and quiet” for those being protested, while impoverishing the “peace and quiet” of private citizens who are not being targeted for protest.
Political Life could not find any evidence that any of the current El Monte City Council Members or non-governmental members of the El Monte community had been protested at their private residence. As such, the ordinance shows that City Manager Martinez and the City Attorney Olivarez are eager to clamp down on First Amendment activity at the home of El Monte's most high-ranking resident— L.A. Supervisor Hilda Solis, the most powerful politician in Los Angeles County.