VISTA, Calif. (CN) – Hundreds of constituents who’ve gathered to protest at Republican Congressman Darrell Issa’s Vista, California, office for months on “Resist Trump Tuesdays” were handed a victory by the city this week when their special-events permit was extended for three months and restrictions were removed, despite the congressman’s objections.
The city of Vista extended protesters’ special-events permit through September 30 and removed restrictions – such as holding the event organizer personally liable for any damage, injuries or misconduct – which the city had tacked on after receiving complaints from Issa and the businesses and property owner of the commercial building he shares.
The extended, less restrictive permit comes after the San Diego chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sent the city a letter on behalf of protest organizer Ellen Montanari. The letter suggested the heightened restrictions, which included requiring protesters to move off the sidewalk and across the street from Issa’s office and to limit the use of speakers and amplifiers, violated the constituents’ First Amendment rights.
Protesters have gathered at Issa’s office weekly, sometimes swelling to include upwards of 800 people, vowing to vote him out in 2018. The congressman won a ninth term in 2016’s closest congressional race in a traditionally red district that includes north San Diego County and south Orange County. Issa’s 49th congressional district was carried by Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.
A letter made public Wednesday revealed that the congressman had contacted Vista’s mayor and city council June 21 asking them to continue enforcing the existing restrictions on protesters because of the public nuisance the large gatherings had become for the other tenants and property manager of the building he shares.
“Let me be clear: this isn’t about me or my office. I can handle a little heat from some protesters. While I understand the goal of these protests is to impede the work of my congressional office, it’s unfortunate that loud gatherings have impeded the work of neighboring businesses and prevented their right to use and enjoy their property,” Issa wrote.
In his letter, the congressman said the crowds “posed dangers for passing traffic,” had caused the building to “repeatedly suffer property damage,” and “made it impossible to conduct ordinary business” for the other tenants in the building.
In response to questions from Courthouse News about the property damage, Issa spokesman Calvin Moore pointed to an article from The San Diego Union-Tribune in which a city spokeswoman said there had been complaints of broken sprinkler heads and illegal parking.
Protest organizer Ellen Montanari said in a phone interview that she doubted any of the protesters – who are mostly retirees – had caused any damage.
“Trust me,” she said, “If we had been out of compliance we would have heard about it.”
“One of the things about the First Amendment is we have the right to protest where we choose,” Montanari said. “We police the area afterwards and leave it cleaner than we find it.”
ACLU San Diego Legal Director David Loy – who wrote the letter to the city threatening to sue if restrictions were not lifted – said in an interview that the Supreme Court has found public sidewalks time and again to be spaces where protests can happen. He said restoring the rights of the Issa protesters to gather on the sidewalk in front of the congressman’s office was the right thing to do.
“The surrounding area can tolerate a protest for one hour a week,” Loy said.
“No one can guarantee the behavior of individuals and, in the unlikely event an individual does something to violate the law, the proper response is for the city to cite that individual,” he added.
Protesters plan to take the Fourth of July off and will gather again at Issa’s office the following Tuesday.