Monday, October 29, 2007

Bullhorn permit law in Manteca

I want to clear up my comments made to the council last week. The newspaper just said I thought the new "noise ordinance" was turning Manteca into something "like the Soviet Union!" Which is kind of dramatic. Heck, I would have printed the same thing.

But that was only part of my comments. I don't think anyone has the right to disturb the peace of their neighbor. (The newspaper made it sound like I was against any reasonable noise law.)

What's odd about the new idea from Manteca is two things:

First, the fines for a loud party are "open ended." The police just "decide" how much the fine is. Yes, you read that right. The chief explained how, well, it might be $500, maybe $1500 or $3000 depending on how many police cars have to come out there, what kind "of attitude" they get, etc.

It's this idea of open ended fines determined by the police -- acting as judge and jury -- is why I said it sounded oppressive. Actually when the police, without any judge or a court or even a written guideline can just hand out any fine or punishment they see fit, that's the definition of a police state.

Secondly, the law also requires anyone using a bullhorn or any sort of sound system to give lectures or give political talks has to get permission from the chief of police ten days in advance! That's what the law actually says, it talks about lectures and talks to people, it's not just aimed at "loud car stereos."

When questioned, the chief defended this, saying that it was a "must issue" type of thing. So, in other words, he has to issue the permit. OK, so my question is, then why require the permit then? And if it's "must issue" and there's no decision making, why does it take ten days to issue the permit? Also there's a reference to some unspecified fee associated with the permit. No one could say what the fee might be.

All of these kinds of laws are subject to abuse. Some politically favored group might get a permit for a bullhorn for $5, and some other unpopular group might be charged $500 for the permit, who knows. Also, if by chance there's a labor strike or spontaneous protest, and the protesters take to the street the leader could be arrested and his bullhorn seized even if it was otherwise a peaceful assembly of people protesting something -- if the leader didn't have the proper "permit" for his bullhorn.

That's what I was talking about when I said this reminded me of how in the old Soviet Union you needed a permit to have a typewriter. If you're curious, there's a good depiction of this in the movie Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others).