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Council approves picketing buffer

Decision follows a recent demonstration by abortion foes outside the Newport Beach home of a doctor.

August 13, 2013|By Jill Cowan | This post has been corrected, as noted below.

The Newport Beach City Council voted Tuesday to move ahead with an ordinance that would create a 300-foot "buffer zone" to keep pickets away from a targeted individual's home.

The 6-0 decision followed a recent night-time demonstration during which abortion protesters targeted the residence of a local doctor, writing slurs in chalk in front of the house and generally frightening residents.

While council members said they understood the need to protect free speech, they felt that the rule would ensure that residents could find peace and privacy in their homes.

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"I was concerned about the neighbors," said Councilwoman Nancy Gardner. "I do think it's important that our homes be our sanctuary."

Frequent council critic Jim Mosher said the city could be toeing a very fine legal line, and that the ordinance seemed unnecessary given that police probably have a "whole briefcase of laws" on their side should a protest became a nuisance.

"It sounded simple, but it is a difficult issue, balancing the right to free speech ... with a right to privacy," he said.

According to a city staff report, the ordinance is based on similar laws in other cities that have stood up to legal challenges.

Encroaching piers

The council also considered a proposed change to the way the city reviews permits for the few piers that encroach on neighboring properties.

At issue was whether permits for these piers should be transferable between property owners through the same Harbor Resources Department administrative process as nearly all other types of residential piers, or if the encroaching piers should continue to undergo Harbor Commission review before they can be transferred.

City staff members told the council the agenda item was meant to streamline a longer process that — through a kind of quirk in the system affecting only a small portion of piers — could hold up things like estate planning for those who want to easily transfer pier ownership between family members. For the vast majority of pier permit transfers, Harbor Resources manager Chris Miller said Monday, it's a "relatively painless process."

Miller said the fewer than 10 piers that would be affected have been allowed to cross over neighboring property lines through a variety of individual agreements over the years.

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