County banned 'implements of riot' near Trump's border wall prototypes

The signs appeared Tuesday, steps from where President Donald Trump’s administration built prototypes of the border wall he touted all the way to the White House.

The area just east of San Diego’s Otay Mesa neighborhood would be under restriction from Friday morning until Wednesday night, they warned, citing a County of San Diego law.

“Items below are prohibited,” said the notices, listing would-be weapons including guns, knives, ice picks, baseball bats, slingshots and bear spray. “Persons violating this Restriction WILL BE PROSECUTED.”

Also prohibited: glass bottles or containers, chains, hose lengths and other items “generally considered an ‘implement of riot,’” according to the signs.

Then the signs were removed Wednesday. Soon thereafter, a county spokeswoman explained in an email:

“The county had received information about possible protests planned for this weekend, so crews began noticing for a possible Temporary Area Restriction since restrictions have to be publicly noticed in advance of an event,” wrote spokeswoman Alex Bell.

“We have since received information that the protests will not be materializing, and we have decided not to issue a TAR,” she added. “My understanding is that crews have started removing those signs.”

The restricted zone identified on the fliers included the west side of Enrico Fermi Drive from Airway Road to Via de la Amistad. It also included other portions of Enrico Fermi Place, Siempre Viva Road and “Unnamed Public Road.”

The postings appeared the same day Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited the border area where the wall prototypes were erected last fall. The unannounced visit was closed to the news media.

Discussing the prototypes, Trump told his cabinet members at a meeting last month, “I may be going there very shortly to look at them in their final form.” It’s not clear whether his hinted visit might have spurred talk of protests.

The TARs, or Temporary Area Restrictions, were authorized by the county Board of Supervisors in late September at the request of Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer.

At the time, Robbins-Meyer, Sheriff Bill Gore and other county leaders were afraid the border region just outside San Diego city limits would become the next Charlottesville, Va., where a woman had been killed the previous month at a white nationalist rally. They cited similar protest rules in place in Berkeley, Calif.

“Construction of prototype border wall segments in the unincorporated area of San Diego is imminent,” the ordinance said. “It is reasonable to expect the arrival of persons intending to engage in conflict and non-peaceful conduct.”

Senior officials were so worried about potential violence that they asked supervisors to approve the restrictions on an urgency basis. With Supervisor Ron Roberts unavailable, that meant they needed Supervisor Greg Cox to dial in from Washington D.C. to secure the fourth vote required for passage.

“I really don’t support the an expansion of the border fence, but that’s not the issue before us today,” Cox, patched in remotely by telephone, said before approving the request. “We want to make sure that it’s a peaceful demonstration and it’s in conformance with state and federal and local laws, and so I think that this is a very appropriate action for us to take today.”

The ordinance, which went into immediate effect with the four votes recorded Sept. 26, allows San Diego County to impose temporary restrictions on public access and possession of certain items deemed to be dangerous.

Specifically, the temporary restrictions “shall be limited to establishing perimeters and/or separations for such events and prohibiting or otherwise limiting items that have been known to be used as weapons or implements of riot,” the law states.

The language of the new law does not define temporary. The ordinance also does not describe objects that can be perceived as weapons or detail how much space law enforcers can seal from public access.

Instead, it says the restrictions “shall be narrowly tailored and consistent with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the California Constitution and State Law.”

Judges have previously ruled that the government can regulate the time and place where people can engage in protected speech — the so-called free-speech zones that police have set up historically in cities targeted by organized protests.

David Loy, legal director for the San Diego office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the government cannot regulate the content of speech and reasonable efforts must be made to accommodate the rights granted to all protesters under the First Amendment.

“The bottom line is the government has to err on protecting freedom of speech,” he said in December, when protests broke out in the area surrounding the border-wall prototypes. “The free-speech zone has to be meaningful. It can’t be a postage-stamp place where three people can stand.”

Under the ordinance, violators can receive up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine per conviction.

jeff.mcdonald@sduniontribune.com (619) 293-1708 @sdutMcDonald

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