On Monday, June 9th the Pleasant Hill City Council introduced zoning ordinance amendments to “sync up” with its law adopted last year that regulates firearms and ammunition sales. As expected, introduction of the zoning changes was approved on a 3-2 vote that mirrored last year’s adoption of the new gun law (Councilmembers Carlson and Weir opposed; Durant, Flaherty and Harris in support).
The zoning changes adopted by Council are the same ones unanimously rejected by the city’s Planning Commission last month because they were considered unnecessary. The zoning changes are the last step City implementation of its controversial firearms law, which limits gun and ammunition sales to specified locations. The City Council is expected to adopt the final zoning rules in July.
Both Sides Speak Up
The public hearing attracted a large, generally well-behaved crowd of residents, business owners and interested Bay Area observers on both sides of the gun control debate. A total of 26 people spoke at the meeting, 19 in opposition and 7 in support of the proposed zoning changes that define restrictions on gun sales. Only 8 of the speakers identified themselves as Pleasant Hill residents (4 on each side of the issue, pro and con).
Supporters who spoke in favor of the new zoning changes included attorneys with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, whose model ordinance was used to develop Pleasant Hill’s gun law. Speakers expressed pride in Pleasant Hill’s leadership, by enacting so-called “smart gun laws” intended to prevent “illegal gun trafficking” so “people can feel safe and secure.”
Opponents speaking against the zoning changes echoed many of the same objections raised by Planning Commissioners, including concerns about the “irregular process” in which the City Council bypassed the Commission before adopting the gun law last year. In addition, some expressed concerns about adverse impacts on the city’s reputation, overall business climate and existing gun retailers. Several speakers urged the Council to rescind the gun law, to avoid litigation costs associated with the legal challenge against it from the National Shooting Sports Foundation and City Arms East.
Prickliness About City’s Tarnished Image
In the evening’s only dramatic moment, Mayor Flaherty interrupted Councilmember Weir in an uncharacteristically angry outburst. Weir expressed concern the firearms issue has created a “strained relationship” between the City Council and the Planning Commission that reflects poorly on the city and its management. Flaherty interjected by saying, “I’m tired of hearing the City is not well-managed.”
After a brief verbal tussle with raised voices, Flaherty backed off and permitted Weir to finish his comments. Later in the meeting Flaherty apologized to Weir, while also acknowledging his sensitivity to “criticism of the City’s reputation” that had been the subject of public comment earlier in the evening (including reference to the City’s mishandling of its former City Clerk).
Perhaps Flaherty was unusually touchy due to discomfort with being in the limelight as the “swing vote.” In addition, during the public hearing he was publicly criticized for flip-flopping on the firearms issue, which he opposed as a Planning Commissioner and City Council candidate, before inexplicably changing his mind during 2013. Flaherty’s early opposition to gun-related zoning restrictions was unsurprising, given his profession as a real estate attorney.
Flaherty’s failure to offer an explanation for his 180 switch on the gun regulations prompted some to conclude he’d traded his vote for the Mayor’s seat. Perhaps Flaherty’s deposition will be taken, as part of the NSSF/City Arms litigation process, to clarify the reasons for his flip-flop.
Hi Ho, Hi Ho . . . It’s Off to Court We Go
At one point in the meeting Councilmember Weir made a motion to reconsider the entire firearms law at a future Council meeting. Carlson seconded the motion, which elicited brief cheers from the audience. Moments later the motion was rejected on a familiar 3-2 vote.
The NSSF/City Arms lawsuit is scheduled for an issues conference before the Judge in August, before the case moves to trial in September.
In November, Michael Harris and Jack Weir are expected to run for re-election. Pleasant Hill’s firearms law and the court challenge against it are likely to be issues during the campaign, especially in light of the City’s projected deficit in its operating budget.