By the Daily Post staff
Palo Alto today backed down from its 10-day nighttime curfew amid questions over whether the move was legal in the first place.
City Manager Ed Shikada unilaterally implemented an 8:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew on Tuesday that was supposed to last until June 11. But today he announced it has ended.
The curfew ended after criticism by current and a former council members, and a letter from the ACLU. The ACLU said the city exceeded its authority under state law to impose a curfew, and the action violated the First Amendment rights of residents.
“The order in its present form imposes a sweeping general ban on the public assembly, free expression in all public forums, and movement of nearly all of Palo Alto’s more than 67,000 residents from 8:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. and is neither authorized by state statutory law nor consistent with the freedoms guaranteed by the United States and California Constitutions — including the constitutional rights to freedom of speech, assembly, press and movement, and the most basic notice requirements,” said the letter from ACLU attorneys Shilpi Agarwal and Amy Gilbert. (Download the letter.)
Under the curfew, residents outside during those hours could be arrested and fined. Other local governments in the Bay Area including San Mateo County implemented curfews for a day or two to prevent rioting and looting, but no other jurisdiction imposed such a long curfew.
Shikada and Police Chief Robert Jonsen did not respond to emails and phone calls from the Post on Tuesday and Wednesday about the curfew.
Mayor Adrian Fine said he didn’t know why the curfew was set to last 10 days and believed it was too long. While Shikada discussed the idea of curfew with City Council on Monday, there was no indication at that meeting that he would be imposing a 10-day curfew the next day.
Yesterday the city announced it will likely remove the curfew today. The new announcement claimed that 50 to 100 cars of suspected looters were seen circling the Stanford Shopping Center Sunday night, which led to the emergency curfew.
Former Mayor Pat Burt told the Post yesterday that he had a number of concerns about the curfew. For one, Shikada drew his power for the order from the city’s COVID-19 emergency declaration. Burt said the looting concerns have no relation to COVID-19 so it doesn’t make sense that the COVID-19 order could allow Shikada to declare a curfew.
He also said the length and geographic scope of the curfew “grossly exceeded” the threat. Burt said the looting was a concern for commercial areas and didn’t warrant shutting down the whole city.
He said smash-and-grabs at stores are an issue that the city has faced for years. Burt said the threat sounded more like an escalation of those smash and grabs than a rioting problem.
Other cities across the country have had rioting during protests about the murder of George Floyd. The largest protest in Palo Alto so far was a group of about 100 teenagers who crossed Highway 101 and then marched through town shouting “black lives matter.”
The ACLU of Northern California sent letters yesterday to cities including Palo Alto decrying curfews as a violation of the First Amendment rights to speech and assembly.
City Councilman Tom DuBois said he thinks the curfew was legal but he didn’t agree with it. He said he thinks the curfew should have come to council before being implemented.