Thursday, June 24, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 17

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on January 5th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 45 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 21, Issue 45

Large gatherings can't be stopped in Solvang but safety is encouraged

By Karen Garcia

Despite the pandemic, Solvang—similar to many other communities—has had several unpermitted, politically oriented gatherings in 2020. Two such gatherings occurred over the Dec. 19 weekend at Solvang Park, prompting many residents to alert the city about their concerns over the crowds.

City Manager Xenia Bradford told the Sun that she learned one was an annual nativity show and the second was a rally in support of President Donald Trump. The city didn’t permit either event, she said. 

In a citywide statement, Solvang said it’s currently following all state and Santa Barbara County guidelines with regards to permitting events, which means at this time that Solvang is not permitting events of any kind. The statement continued by saying that the city can’t pick and choose the groups that can and can’t exercise “their First Amendment rights.”

Two large gatherings in Solvang sparked concern among residents and pushed the city to respond saying it cannot stop these gatherings.

However, the city did turn off the park’s electricity during Sunday’s rally, saying it had done so in the past during similar gatherings. Over the last few months, Bradford said, there have been multiple large gatherings in the community, beginning with a Black Lives Matter protest. 

“We work with the [Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office] to rely on public safety aspects, and one of the considerations that they are being mindful of is not igniting more hostility by trying to get these groups dispersed,” Bradford said. “So their position is to be vigilant, know what’s going on, and standing by to ensure that everything is peaceful.”

During these unpermitted events, the city works with its service department to ensure public safety by posting additional signs with safety guidelines about mask-wearing and social distancing.

“We have limited ability to control when people come out with freedom of speech and expressing their position,” she said 

Unless an event like a protest is going to close or block the public right of way, Sheriff’s Office Lt. Erik Raney said the agency doesn’t get involved other than to consult with the event planners on the location and whether there will be movement.

“We encourage them to consult with us because there are greater public safety concerns in terms of the number of people and whether or not there is going to be an infringement on the public right of way. We like to be aware of what’s going on in our jurisdiction so that we can plan appropriately if there’s going to be counter protestors and things like that,” Raney said. 

The Sheriff’s Office, he said, has taken a stance from the beginning that it’s going to focus on education and voluntary compliance with public health orders and only practice enforcement if a violation is egregious. Raney said that many residents have approached the Sheriff’s Office with concerns about balancing constitutional rights, personal freedoms, and how they feel state and county public health orders are restricting them. 

“Our response is always the same, and that is we are doing our best to balance people’s constitutional rights with the greater public health,” Raney said. “All of our actions are guided by what’s in the greater public health’s interest and always take into account people’s constitutional rights but, you know, it’s a global pandemic and we’re doing our part to try to educate the public and keep everybody well informed and as safe as we possibly can.”

Moving forward, Bradford said people who are going to gather for a protest or something similar must maintain a 6-foot distance and wear a mask—which is required in public places. 

Weekly Poll
How did you survive the heat wave?

By staying indoors: This is why I have air conditioning.
I got out in nature (but stayed in the shade, of course).
I enjoyed the Santa Maria pool's first rec swim in more than a year.
I took advantage of the warm evenings and ate outdoors at a local restaurant.

| Poll Results

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