Modesto bans rocks, bottles and more from protests. ‘Shots fired’ over 2nd Amendment

The Modesto City Council has passed an urgency ordinance that bans the wearing of masks and possessing bricks, glass bottles, chains, pepper spray, knives, metal pipes and similar items that can be used as weapons at protests that could turn violent.

The Police Department asked for this ordinance ahead of the proposed Aug. 24 straight pride rally in Modesto that city officials say could draw hundreds of protesters and counter-protesters and has the potential for the type of clashes seen at other demonstrations in cities across the state and nation.

Council members voted 7-0 on Tuesday night for the ordinance, but not before Mayor Ted Brandvold was accused of hijacking the ordinance by making it about the Second Amendment and gun rights, though a former councilwoman said the mayor was protecting residents from governmental overreach.

The original urgency ordinance the city posted to its website Friday afternoon included banning firearms from demonstrations, rallies, protests and similar public assemblies. But the ordinance approved by the council did not include firearms.

Police Chief Galen Carroll asked Friday that firearms be removed from the ordinance after speaking with Brandvold and the mayor raised concerns about including them. Carroll said Modesto’s ordinance was based on a Los Angeles ordinance that included the firearms ban.

The mayor in his Friday conversation with the chief also was concerned about the definition of public assembly. He worried whether assemblies included MoBand concerts in Graceada Park, the Fourth of July Parade and other social gatherings. City officials said it did not and that the ordinance targets assemblies in which people come wearing masks and are armed with shields, sticks and rocks and are prepared to fight.

After Friday’s conversation with Carroll, the mayor started an email chain Saturday — in which he wrote: “It looks to me like they are trying to outlaw people carrying firearms at any public event in the City” — that reached the Madison Society Foundation and got it involved.

The Oakdale-based foundation defends the Second Amendment and, according to its president, has more than 1,500 members in Stanislaus County. It is illegal in California to have a firearm in public unless someone has what is called a concealed carry weapon permit, which allows the holder to carry a loaded handgun.

Madison Society Foundation president Douglas Welborn estimates there are 8,000 to 9,000 CCW permit holders in Stanislaus County, which has about 550,000 residents. The society believed the ordinance targeted people with CCW permits, and about two dozen Madison Society members and other Second Amendment advocates attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Discussion at council meeting

Councilman Doug Ridenour said at Tuesday’s meeting that a lot of misinformation about the ordinance had been circulated in the community. Carroll addressed that throughout the meeting, explaining his Friday conversations with the mayor.

Brandvold — who has said he has a CCW permit — said in an interview that he wanted robust public participation at the council meeting (something he said the city needs more of if it wants to avoid some of the missteps it has made). He said the ordinance on the city’s website had not been updated over the weekend, and he still had concerns about about the definition of public assemblies.

He also said he was concerned that the ordinance had been rushed, that the council had not been briefed, and that when he spoke with City Manager Joe Lopez about the ordinance, Lopez said it was limited to banning masks and similar coverings.

City spokesman Thomas Reeves said Wednesday that city officials had to react quickly to rapidly changing circumstances and decided to bring forward an ordinance after last week’s council meeting to better protect police officers and the public at demonstrations, rallies and protests.

Scores of people packed that meeting and implored officials not to allow the straight pride rally to take place, saying it constituted hate speech, promoted white supremacy and incited violence against members of the LGBQT+ community, people of color and other minorities.

Reeves said that because of the urgency of the matter, the full council was not briefed about the ordinance until starting Friday. But he said Lopez updated Brandvold as the ordinance was being developed. And while Lopez referred to it as the “mask ordinance” that was a form of shorthand, the city manager explained to the mayor that it included banning items that can be used as weapons.

City officials plan to meet within 60 days at the council’s Safety & Communities Committee meeting to discuss updates to the ordinance, including a better definition of public assembly. The meeting is open to the public.

Former councilwoman chimes in

Brandvold did not raise his concerns at Tuesday’s council meeting. But former Councilwoman Janice Keating defended him and blasted city officials.

“... How dare you accuse the mayor of causing any kind of problem,” she said. “I want to thank the mayor for bringing this item and his concern to the attention of the citizens.”

She accused officials of trying to limit citizens’ Second Amendment rights and only were stopped because of Brandvold, though she inadvertently called him Ridenour.

“Thank you Mayor Ridenour again for stopping this overreach by the city staff in making criminals of your law-abiding citizens,” she said. “We all know that had you not acted, this would have sailed through without anyone saying a peep.”

Keating also accused City Attorney Adam Lindgren of providing the council with a substantially different ordinance than the one posted on the city’s website Friday afternoon and one that was not produced until 3 p.m. Tuesday, which gave council members little time to read it.

Lindgren said none of that was true. He said the major changes to the ordinance were related to the new developments regarding the straight pride rally that came after the ordinance was posted Friday. He said the city expected to make those revisions.

And he said the ordinance the council passed was ready for review at Monday’s agenda review meeting, which is open to the public. Keating cited “Final Revised August 13, 2019 at 3:00 p.m.” which appeared on the first page of the ordinance as proof of when it was produced, but Lindgren said that was when the ordinance was printed for the council meeting.

Straight pride event future

The organizers of the proposed straight pride rally are talking with city officials about using Modesto Centre Plaza, the city’s downtown convention center, for their Aug. 24 event. They would use the paved, outdoor area in front of the center.

This comes after the city rejected their request to use Mancini Bowl, the Graceada Park amphitheater. The city cited concerns over safety, that the rally is not compatible with other events in the park, and that the organizers’ liability insurance had been voided. Reeves, the city spokesman, said organizers still need insurance to use Centre Plaza.

The rally is being organized by Bay Area chiropractor Don Grundmann and Modesto resident Mylinda Mason. The two have said an event will take place Aug. 24.

Reeves said that even if Grundmann and Mason fail in their attempt to reserve Centre Plaza, that does not stop them from holding an informal gathering on public property Aug. 24, such as a park, as long as the gathering does not require a reservation for the venue, such as Mancini Bowl, or use equipment that requires a city permit, such as a sound system.

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Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University and grew up in San Jose.