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Davis

Davis, California

Thursday, December 9, 2021

City Council candidate exposes cracks in city code

Daniel Watts may have a unique topic for his constitutional law class essay: a paper about how he changed the Davis municipal code.

The 27-year-old UC Davis School of Law student, who ran for governor of California in 2003, is one of five candidates running for a city council seat in the June 8 Davis City Council election.

As part of his platform, Watts is seeking to repeal city ordinances that violate First Amendment rights to free speech, including Section 26.01.010 of the Davis Municipal Code addressing annoying persons and Section 26.01.100 addressing obscene language.

The ordinance banning annoying persons on the streets is “impermissibly vague” and the ordinance banning profane language impinges on the fundamental right of freedom of speech, Watts said.

Watts first appeared before the council in mid-March after sending a letter to the city attorney and receiving no reply.

Watts gave the city council until March 29 to repeal the ordinances, threatening litigation if they did not.

“The City Council basically mocked us at the meeting,” Watts said in a phone interview.

“There was some joking around,” said City Councilmember Sue Greenwald of the meeting in which the city attorney assured Watts that the city knew the ordinances were unconstitutional.

Greenwald said Watts has not changed public policy because the city had never enforced the ordinances.

“He helped bring to light the fact that we had not brought code up to date and that’s nice,” Greenwald said, adding that is not uncommon for jurisdictions to drag their feet on updating municipal codes.

The item passed on the consent agenda last week and is likely to pass again during a second reading at the next city council meeting on April 27, Councilmember Lamar Heystek said.

“It is remarkable that he has helped to change public policy,” Heystek said, who himself is the youngest city councilmember to serve since Bob Black in 1972.

Watts said his constitutional law professor first introduced him to the ordinances. The professor had listed various similar policies that had already been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Now, Watts’ efforts, in concert with the King Hall ACLU, have changed public policy and are the topic of his local government law essay.

“He’s very supportive and enthusiastic about my candidacy,” Watts said of his constitutional law professor.

The city council candidate said it was important to him these laws be repealed because of the status of freedom of speech as a fundamental right.

“The punishment here is so facially unconstitutional, it has to be off the books,” he said.

Watts is also running to help improve students’ rights and students’ relationships with the rest of the city.

“[Students] are the life blood of Davis,” Heystek said. “If we don’t advocate for students then we’re not advocating for the life blood of Davis. Anybody who brings up student issues has my sympathy.”

The four other candidates on the June 8 ballot are Joe Krovoza, Jon Li, Rochelle Swanson and Sydney Vergis[cq all].

CHINTAN DESAI can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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