Trying to Reason With Mayor Don Lane on His Restrict-the-Media Rules


Mayor Refuses to Postpone Repression with Quick and Dirty Decorum Rule Changes
by Robert Norse
Tuesday Jan 13th, 2015 12:59 PM

The “decorum rule” changes proposed at City Council today are part of a long ongoing process of marginalizing, discouraging, and discrediting actiivsts. When the community got righteously angry at the SCPD last-minute hurry-through of its armored personnel “rescue” vehicle and some members turned their back on the Council (quite legally and legitimately), Mayor Lane went into crisis mode. As a strong media critic of his and his Council around their homeless abuses, I’ve been punished for the last year with an absurd “unattended recording device” rule which required me to sit next to my machine or risk having it confiscated. Lane needs to abolish this rule and restore the prior “leave it where you want but don’t disrupt” process. But he won’t. In the following correspondence, I outline and Lane ignores my concerns and suggestions.


On January 8th, Lane did advise me he was putting new decorum restrictions on the agenda.

On January 10th, after reading them, I wrote back:
I suggest you withdraw your proposed decorum amendments and simply remove the “unattended audio devices” ‘rule’ entirely. It has never prompted any disruption at City Council other than that evoked by the Mayor.

I also suggest withdrawing the stuff about “obstructing aisles” and “furniture” since those issues would be gone once you remove the “unattended audio devices”. It’s pretty clear that this is a direct attempt to maintain a rule without good reason.

Or perhaps you have a reason for making it a potential crime to leave an “unattended audio device”? I’d be interested in knowing your reasoning.

I also recommend withdrawing your new definition of “disruption” as being “when a mayor insists on imposing a rule and has to stop the meeting to do so”. It flies in the face of the 9th Circuit’s opinion in my case that “disruption” means disruption, not imagined disruption, or the violation of some rule.

Responding to legitimate protest with harsher restrictions is in my view unwise and will ultimately cost the city administration as well as the rest of us.

Please postpone Council consideration of these changes until you sit down with some of the activists to discuss your specific concerns and how they can be equitably met.

I would hope we could discuss this matter and come up with a solution that meets everyone’s concerns. I think that would save all of us lots of time and trouble.


P.S. In the meantime please make available any documents that involve complaints, concerns, or documents regarding the new decorum rule changes you’re proposing. This would include any documents referencing obstructing city council aisles, furniture, recording devices in the chamber, and/or concerns about Council “disruption”.

Don responded the same day with this:

Thanks Robert
I look forward to hearing your comments at the council meeting.

I have forwarded your PRA request on to Nydia for formal processing– and I can tell you that I have no documents along the lines you requested. I have this information filed in my own memory: that when you and your proxies have been sitting adjacent to the lectern I have seen many community speakers show very visible concern about people sitting in that spot and on several occasions I have seen people flinch or recoil as you move toward or handle your recording device near the lectern. I know how committed you are to community participation at council meetings so I hope you will support eliminating one impediment to that participation.

Thanks for considering.

I responded on the same day with this e-mail:


I’m still trying to understand why you support the “unattended audio devices” rule at all. That was the first question I asked you.

What purpose does it serve? Can you cite any disruptions caused by my regular recording over the last dozen years?

As you know, the rule was unenforced for 13 years until a singularly repressive and anti-homeless Mayor took power. I have been a homeless advocate and strong Council critique for nearly three decades, and I think it’s pretty clear this “rule” targets my radio work. Do you deny this?

You note some find it uncomfortable to have me sitting near the podium. I did too. It’s awkward to have to guard my recorder throughout the meeting. And should be unnecessary, as well. I wouldn’t have been up there at all, except an armed police officer kept shutting off my “unattended” recorder and outrageously confiscating it. That was after I was falsely arrested on April 1st.

I found it sad that you neither objected to the arrest or the subsequent confiscations, nor took action to stop it when you had the power as acting Mayor. This kind of behavior by the Council is petty and unnecessary.

It’s also unprecedented. Can you cite any other local legislative body that requires you to “sit next to your recorder or risk having it confiscated” or requires it to be placed in a special zone?

It seems to me a rather arrogant and pointless assertion of authority for its own sake.

Your proposed “permission zone” for recording devices runs afoul of the basic First Amendment right of any member of the public, and particularly a reporter, to record–even if they step away from their machine to read an agenda, chat with a friend, use the restroom, or take a break outside.

How does the placement of a small inconspicuous device actually disrupt the meeting?

As I mentioned before, I’d be happy to make any reasonable accommodation. How about it?

As I advised Mayor Robinson, I’d be happy to be careful not to interfere with others at the podium–as I have been throughout the years–in recording. Wouldn’t this satisfy your concerns? In this case no furniture, signs, additional recorder “attendants” would be necessary.

I know how committed you are to community participation and media access at Council meetings, so I hope you will restore what has been a problem-free arrangement for the last decade or more.

Let me know. While there are far more important matters we are both concerned about, the issue of media access is an important one to me.


P.S. I’m also concerned with your new definition of “disruption” which seems to ignore the court case which the City lost when the 9th Circuit clarified that “disruption” means real disruption not simply a rule violation. Has there been some more recent court decision changing this?

Don responded on Sunday January 11th:

I guess I’m still wondering what the problem is with you and everyone having a place to leave a recorder unattended that is a bit of distance away from the area where other people are speaking. You still seem unable to explain why this arrangement will keep you from recording the proceedings– which you are entitled to do and which I intend to support your doing.

Prior to enforcement of the “unattended” rule, you were regularly stepping up to the lectern to move or remove or replace your recorder. This may not noisily disrupt the meeting– it was simply a persistent and annoying interruption for many. My experience is that you are not a particularly perceptive judge of which activities cause small disruptions in our council meetings since you are regularly doing those activities even as you say you are concerned about avoiding disruptions.

Sorry this situation has made you so sad. I believe this new arrangement will spare us both some future sadness.


I replied the same day:


I think I’ve clarified why I find the “unattended recorder” rule so ridiculous. You haven’t stated why you support it and what you found wrong with the usual process I’ve used over the last decade or more. But I’ll try again…

Why should members of the public and media be compelled under threat of exclusion to place their recorders in a particular spot? It is simply a massive unprecedented restriction which seems to be a masking justification for an untenable rule. Your observation of me in a position I was forced to be in by the previous mayor to “attend” my recorder does not outline any problem with the pre-Robinson approach.

I haven’t placed my machine on the lectern for years. I have been careful to place at least 2′ away from speakers on the railing–which is the optimum place for me to record with the equipment I have. The City Clerk’s office noted no correspondence indicating any phone, e-mailed, or written complaints.

It seems you are not serious about any kind of reasonable discussion or accommodation. The process you use is similar to the one you used in creating the “performance pens” on the Pacific Avenue sidewalk or approving the BEARCAT: no meaningful prior discussion with concerned and impacted people, just the wham/bam/slam City Council approach that rubberstamps Staff recommendations.

While I appreciate the courtesy of your last-minute correspondence, it doesn’t take the place of all important real preliminary discussions. These are the substance rather than the shell of a democratic process–which is what we see at City Council.

For the reasons mentioned before, I again encourage you to withdraw these proposed constricting rules. At until do so until you’ve actually talked to the people impacted–and done so with notice and not at the last minute in the face of a done deal.

You also have not answered most of the questions I’ve raised. Perhaps because there are no reasonable answers. Of course, those in power often feel they don’t have to.


Don concluded:

And I have clarified why the rule makes sense. I guess we disagree about this.

You seem oblivious to how your own behavior in council meetings is disruptive. Because your legitimate free speech activity is protected does not mean that everything you do is appropriate or protected.

I will protect your free speech rights as I will protect the rights of everyone that comes to speak– but I will not give you license in council meetings to do whatever you feel like doing without regard to how effects others.

Your handling of your tape recorder at and adjacent to the lectern pre-dates the previous mayor. That annoying and interruptive activity is something I am trying to bring to an end.

If you know of others that seem to be impacted by this proposed rule please let me know. I contacted and corresponded multiple times with the one person I know that is likely to be immediately impacted– that would be you.

That correspondence is now ending.

I answer many questions you ask… and am always treated with a “not good enough” or “I have some more questions” You could pretend that this represents me being unresponsive or you could consider how I see it from my end: badgering and attention-seeking behavior from someone who can never be satisfied.

Don Lane, Mayor City of Santa Cruz

My final e-mail the same day:

Don: Until you actually address the basic question, naturally you will find me unsatisfied.

To repeat, that question is simple:

What was wrong with the previous arrangement that a dozen previous mayors and Council’s used?

For me, your failure to address this issue (and to actually bring the issue up for meaningful discussion before you send a done-deal package to City Council) is telling point here.

Sorry you choose to take this road.