Candidate Watts Gets Victory as City To Repeal Unconstitutional Portions of the City Municipal Code

Share:

Daniel-Watts-smallCandidate Claimed Such Laws Were Used to Harass Homeless People –

Daniel Watts, a UC Davis law student, had made it one of the centerpieces of his campaign to “Repeal unconstitutional ordinances banning “annoying” conduct and “bawdy” language (Municipal Code Sections 26.01.010 and 26.01.100).”  

While Davis Columnist Bob Dunning may rate Mr. Watts as having a 22 billion to one shot at the city council, Mr. Watts has achieved what none of the other candidates have achieved to date, he has changed city law or he will if a consent agenda item passed on Tuesday night that introduces an ordinance repealing Section 26.01.010 of the Davis Municipal Code addressing annoying persons on streets and amending Section 26.01.100 addressing obscene language.

 

Mr. Watts appeared before the council in late March after he had apparently sent a letter to the city attorney and received no reply.  City Attorney Harriet Steiner acknowledged receiving the letter and said that she had thought a response had gone out from her office.

Mr. Watts laid out three options, the city can repeal the law, they can litigate, and the third option, “when I’m on city council, I’ll repeal the law myself.”

During public comments, Mr. Watts cited Cohen v. California and said:

“‘One man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric.’  Words have emotive impact and using profanity, lewd words, and epithets, that says something.  It expresses meaning, and there’s a reason why people use those words.  So to put words off limits also puts certain ideas off limits.  Even if you don’t those words, the ideas have a right to be expressed.”

In the latter code, he argued that in addition to using poor grammar, it is both vague and over-broad and the supreme court has used those criteria to strike down laws in first amendment cases.  He cited an identical law from Cincinnati that was invalidated by the court in the early 1970s.

Harriet Steiner responded:

“I do agree that at least one of the ordinances that was mentioned is unconstitutional and has been unconstitutional since before I was the city attorney.  As you know the council has not done a review of the code because we haven’t wanted to spend the time and energy doing it.”

The staff report also acknowledges the Coates v. City of Cincinnati case from 1971.

“A United States Supreme Court case invalidated a similar ordinance because it was vague, overbroad, and violated the right of free assembly and association. The ordinance at issue in that case made it a criminal offense for “three or more persons to assemble…on any of the sidewalks…and there conduct themselves in a manner annoying to persons passing by, or occupants of adjacent buildings.” Coates v. City of Cincinnati (1971) 402 U.S. 611. The Cincinnati ordinance was vague because it did not specify any standard of conduct, thus forcing persons to necessarily guess at its meaning. Moreover, it was broad enough to prohibit conduct that is protected by the Constitution. And finally, the Court concluded that a state cannot criminalize the exercise of the right to free assembly simply because that exercise may be annoying to some people.”

At the past candidates forum, Daniel Watts laid out why he believed it was important for laws to be removed from the books even if as the city claims, the police are not enforcing it.  He claims that police often harass homeless people in Davis and they will often look through various city and state laws to find reasons to cite and harass the homeless.  For that reason he believes that having such unconstitutional laws on the books represents a danger to the civil rights of all citizens.

According to both comments at the meeting from the City Attorney and the staff report, “The Davis Police Department does not currently enforce this ordinance.”  However, the staff report recommends, that municipal code section 26.01.010 on annoying person on the street be repealed.

However, the staff reports recommends amendment to the ordinance on fighting words.  The staff report says that the

“City may prohibit the use of “fighting words” – words that inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. See Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942) 315 U.S. 568, 572. A California statute already criminalizes fighting words, providing punishment for “[a]ny person who uses offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.” Cal. Penal Code § 415. The City’s ordinance may be amended to clarify that it prohibits the use of words tending to incite an immediate breach of the peace.”

However, the City may not prohibit the use of words simply because they are offensive or distasteful.

Therefore the city attorney recommends Section 26.01.100 be amended to read:

breachofpeace

While the city has not acted by the date Mr. Watts originally stipulated, March 29, having the city take actions by April 13, is rather remarkable.  While this probably does not bump up the chances of Mr. Watts’ election in the eyes of Mr. Dunning, it does make him the first candidate in this election cycle to change municipal policy and that has to count for something.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Share:

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

11 thoughts on “Candidate Watts Gets Victory as City To Repeal Unconstitutional Portions of the City Municipal Code”

  1. Don Shor

    Just curious: if the Supreme Court has invalidated a law by declaring it unconstitutional, why is it necessary to repeal it? Hasn’t the court, in effect, done that?

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Don: I think the answer to that is complex. First, a court decision making something unconstitutional does remove it from the books. The municipal code should be updated to be constitutional. Second, what happens if they were to prosecute under it? It would have to go through a court process and the court would have to agree with the SCOTUS’ ruling. The concern is that if these are on the books they could be used and without good representation people could get punished under them and even with good representation, it is a huge hassle. But I think the bottom line is the municipal code should be constitutional.

  3. Sue Greenwald

    Don, you are correct. Harriet Steiner agreed that the ordinance was archaic, that it had been around longer than she had, that the city knows that it is not constitutional and that that is why it is not enforced.

    She said it would be fine to delete it, but that it wasn’t important to delete it. She added that UCD law faculty always use it as an example of a law that is no longer constitutional.

    I quipped that we better make sure that it was okay with the law school to eliminate one of their key teaching examples.

  4. Sue Greenwald

    That said, I hope that Daniel Watts turns his attention to the council majority’s continual attempt to censor the content of minority councilmember comments by labelling comments they disagree with as “uncivil”, and by defining tenacious questioning of staff on issues of overwhelming public importance as “harrassment” of staff. These are important issues consistent with his emphasis on freedom of speech.

  5. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”While the city has not acted by the date Mr. Watts originally stipulated, March 29, having the city take actions by April 13, is rather remarkable. While this probably does not bump up the chances of Mr. Watts’ election in the eyes of Mr. Dunning, it does make him the first candidate in this election cycle to change municipal policy and that has to count for something.”[/i]

    Watts has accomplished more in 6 weeks as a candidate than I have in 6 years as a columnist. My congratulations, Daniel. Good job.

  6. Avatar

    David ,

    “”That said, I hope that Daniel Watts turns his attention to the council majority’s continual attempt to censor the content of minority councilmember comments by labelling comments they disagree with as “uncivil”, and by defining tenacious questioning of staff on issues of overwhelming public importance as “harrassment” of staff.

    This statement from Sue is what prompted the Pitbull comment , how can a good job be done when they are in fear mode ?

  7. Avatar

    Rich ,

    Watts has accomplished more in 6 weeks as a candidate than I have in 6 years as a columnist. My congratulations, Daniel. Good job.

    Have you read this guys statements of contempt for cops , yea he will be a fair and just city council person !

  8. greatlizardking

    RE; City Council candidate Watt’s position on the Davis City Council’s plans to pile yet another city ordinance on top of the pre-existing ones. (see: “no annoying language on public streets.”) This ordinance is directed suqarely at the Homeless citizens of Davis and it always has been. As such, once again, the “Haves” of Davis have seen fit to lean heavily on the “Have Nots.” We are the H.A.G.S. Group of Davis, and we think Watts is on the right track, here.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for