Every Saturday for the last 18 weeks, Beverly Gardens Park has transformed from tourist attraction and leisure destination to de facto town square. The weekly “Freedom Rally” has given a home to locals and people across Los Angeles County who support President Donald Trump and oppose public health guidelines they view as onerous. But with the presidential election over and still no end in sight to the unrest animating the rally, residents of Beverly Hills have begun asking: when will we get our park back?
At a Special Meeting on Nov. 24, the Beverly Hills City Council passed new restrictions on the use of its public parks for unpermitted assemblies. The restrictions, made as an amendment to a previous ordinance on gatherings, prevent any group from repeatedly staging unpermitted assemblies at La Cienega Park or City Hall. More stringently, the amended ordinance prohibits unpermitted assemblies from taking place at Beverly Gardens Park. The council voted 4-1 to approve the amendments. Councilmember John Mirisch cast the lone dissenting vote, arguing that the amendments did not do enough to enforce the city’s mask wearing ordinance.
“These gatherings definitely restrict the ability of others in the community to enjoy Beverly Gardens Park for other public uses, including recreation,” said City Attorney Laurence Weiner. “That can be particularly harmful during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
On Oct. 27, in anticipation of unrest following the Nov. 3 General Election, the City Council adopted Urgency Ordinance No. 20-O-2821, which updated and clarified the City’s rules on parades and assemblies. The ordinance set dedicated areas for unpermitted assemblies at Beverly Gardens Park, La Cienega Park, and the Civic Center; it banned nighttime assemblies in residential areas; and it updated the list of prohibited items at gatherings. Furthermore, it stipulated that gatherings greater than 500 people must obtain a permit.
With the gatherings continuing more than three weeks after election day, the Council reconvened in a Special Meeting on Nov. 24 to consider updates to the ordinance. The updated restrictions do not target any single group. Rather, the amended ordinance establishes a formula for how frequently a park can be used before demonstrators must move to another location in the City. Broadly, if a park experiences six unpermitted demonstrations within a 12-week period, it will be off limits for unpermitted demonstrations for the following six weeks. Groups can still hold demonstrations at another park.
For Beverly Gardens Park, however, the Council set higher standards. The park will no longer be available to unpermitted assemblies. The amended ordinance cites “considerable hardship for area residents as expressed in numerous complaints, including repeated obstruction of local access to and through the park, sudden and sharp increases in illegal parking (including in residential neighborhoods), and safety concerns.”
As Councilmember Julian Gold noted, Beverly Hills has recently hosted demonstrations by groups representing a diverse array of causes and issues, including racial equity, Trump’s reelection, and the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“These ordinances are really about finding balance,” Gold said. “Allowing people to say what they have to say, what they have a right to say, and, at the same time, protecting the people who live near these parks or near these areas where people gather.”
The Council also amended the ordinance to require demonstrators at Beverly Gardens Park and La Cienega Park to keep seven feet away from curbs.
Shiva Bagheri, the organizer of the Freedom Rallies, says she does not plan on obeying the new ordinance. “I’m going to be there every Saturday until we get our freedoms back,” she told the Courier.