The Los Gatos Town Council moved forward Tuesday with a pair of initiatives intended to regain control of meetings that have become increasingly disorderly in recent weeks as a pro-Trump faction protested vaccines and LGBTQ inclusion during public comment periods.

While the first reading of a permanent residential-no-picketing ordinance passed unanimously, Vice Mayor Rob Rennie disagreed with an element of the new conduct policy and cast the lone vote against the rules.

The contingent that marred previous sessions with jeering and shrill critiques of moves to promote diversity, along with under-their-breath taunting of public speakers, appeared not to have called in to Tuesday’s virtual meeting.

On Oct. 26, the Council Policy Committee unanimously recommended language updates clarifying the process for handling a person disrupting a meeting of any Town board, committee or commission.

“The Town embraces diversity and strongly condemns hate speech and offensive, hateful language or racial intolerance of any kind at Council Meetings,” the proposed rules state. “Town Council and staff are well aware of the public’s right to disagree with their professional opinion on various Town issues. However, anti-social behavior, slander, hatred, and bigotry statements are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated in any way, shape, or form at Town Council meetings.”

Under the update, any disturbance resulting from a member of the public disobeying the rules can be muted if participating remotely or ejected if in-person.

Violators could even be cited for violating California Penal Code Section 403, which is considered a “crime against the public peace.”

The new law gives the mayor the right to call a recess for policy violations “resulting in the immediate cessation of the audio and video recording and the Council exiting the Chamber,” according to the staff report about the policy change. “Staff will determine if the individual should be removed or if all members of the public should leave depending on the extent of the disturbance. In the event that all public members exit, only the press would be allowed back in.”

‘It seems to me we would be more focused on what we were here to do if we were able to understand who was speaking and if they were a resident of the town’

—Coun. Matthew Hudes

No member of the public asked to speak about the issue.

Initially, Councilmember Mary Badame made a motion to accept the recommended changes as-is. But Councilman Matthew Hudes, in seconding the motion, asked if it was possible to require public speakers to provide their name and say whether they reside within Town boundaries.

“In the past, we did that; we had a speaker card that we had people fill out,” he said. “It seems to me we would be more focused on what we were here to do if we were able to understand who was speaking and if they were a resident of the town.”

But Town Attorney Robert Schultz informed Hudes that would likely be illegal under the Brown Act, the state law that ensures government is conducted in a fair and open manner.

“The Brown Act specifically states you cannot require registration,” he said. “It is possible to request it.”

Hudes suggested such an amendment to the motion.

But Vice Mayor Rennie worried about the potential chilling effect of specifically asking the public whether they lived in Los Gatos before considering their opinion on a subject.

“I just want to say that to me it’s not that relevant whether somebody’s a resident or not,” he said. “You never know where good ideas are going to come from.”

Next, Council moved forward with a permanent residential-no-picketing ordinance.

At its previous meeting, as protesters targeted the homes of the mayor and vice mayor, Council passed an emergency (but temporary) residential-no-picketing ordinance.

Town Attorney Schultz said the language was chosen based on previous no-picketing ordinances that had already undergone court challenges.

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].