Arcata the Defiant "I really don't understand what the concerns are with the
[Patriot] act," Quy said. "What it did was primarily streamline
existing laws on the books. I know some people feel their privacy rights
are being violated, but I think there's some hysteria out there . . . some
LaRae Quy, spokeswoman for the San Francisco FBI office
[Editor's Note: Hysteria? Some misunderstnding?
What part of "patently unconstitutional" does federal employee
Quy, whose salary is paid for by US taxpayers, interrupts as a ' misunderstanding
' I wonder?..Ken Adachi]
Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writer Sunday
April 13, 2003
Town ordinance penalizes officials who cooperate
with Patriot Act, but law may not stand up in court
Arcata, California, that tiny North Coast bastion of the robustly
liberal, has quietly made itself the first city in the nation to outlaw
voluntary compliance with the USA Patriot Act. Town leaders know their new
law outlawing the bigger law is probably illegal. And they don't know anyone
local who's had troubles because of the Patriot Act. But the very existence
of the sweeping federal policy -- passed by Congress swiftly after Sept.
11, 2001, to expand powers to search, conduct surveillance and throw people
in jail during terrorism probes -- so rubbed them the wrong way that they
felt they had to make a stand.
So about a week ago, the Arcata City Council approved an ordinance
telling its management workers they cannot "officially assist or voluntarily
cooperate" with any investigators trying to carry out what the city
considers provisions of the Patriot Act that violate the Bill of Rights
and the Constitution.
Which, city leaders said, is pretty much all of the act except
the heading on the governmental letterhead.
"We already had a resolution condemning the Patriot Act,
and that was all well and good, but we needed something with some bite in
it," said David Meserve, the councilman who introduced the ordinance.
"A resolution makes a recommendation, but this now actually takes on
the force of law.
"Call it a pre-emptive attack. Only not a violent one."
The fine for breaking the new law is $57. The ordinance officially
kicks in May 2. It applies only to the top nine managers of the city, telling
them they have to refer any Patriot Act request to the City Council.
Brian Willson, the national peace protester who lost his legs
trying to block a Concord munitions train in 1987, lives in Arcata and helped
draft the law.
"I think a lot of people are freaking out," he said.
"You can see the developing police state, and we have to start opposing
Arcata has about 16,000 residents, about 5,000 of whom are
students at Humboldt State University. Its biggest claims are the university,
an annual race to determine the best or weirdest human-powered sculpture,
and its liberal resolutions or legal actions to oppose seemingly everything
from the war in Iraq to global warming.
So even though few outside the city limits have so far noticed
the new law, it is right in line with the city's tendency for "never
a dull moment," said City Attorney Nancy Diamond.
The law also seems to be right in line with most townsfolk.
"I don't blame them (the council) for saying 'no,' "
Susan Mattson said as she rang up customers at her Garden Gate gift shop
overlooking the rustic little town square. "I don't know anyone in
town who likes the Patriot Act."
She said she's never seen any FBI agents probing around Arcata.
"But they're certainly welcome -- if they want to buy something,"
she said with a chuckle.
The vote on April 2 for the law in Arcata was 4 to 1, but
even the lone "no" voter said his quibble was more with the tactic
than the concept.
"I find the act very troubling and very scary in many
areas, but this is not the right venue to challenge it," said Councilman
Michael Machi. "You take it through the court system."
CONSIDERABLE PUBLIC INPUT
Several council meetings leading up to the vote drew dozens
of public speakers, and city officials recalled a stray few who thought
the Arcata measure wasn't a good idea. Machi said he still feels "disappointed"
the whole issue wasn't discussed more before passage.
"Just remember that this is the only city in the whole
United States that has done this, so I am not in the minority," he
Resolutions condemning the Patriot Act already have passed
in 83 cities from San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley to Baltimore and Detroit,
and Mill Valley joined the list just Monday. But no city had gone all the
way to an ordinance, said Nancy Talanian, co-director of the Bill of Rights
Defense Committee of Florence, Mass.
Talanian, whose organization has been urging cities to pass
anti-Patriot Act resolutions since 2001, was "delighted" that
Arcata pushed the envelope.
Among the main objections to the act are that it gives investigators
greater authority to jail suspects, plant wiretaps, sift through e-mails
and scrutinize what library books people check out.
So far, there seem to be no opportunities to use Arcata's
soon-to-be- enacted law, because no federal or state agents have ever tried
to use the Patriot Act in Arcata. But that's not for a lack of wanting.
City leaders are actually itching for a fight.
"We're not going to go looking for it, but we'd welcome
it," said City Manager Dan Hauser. "Maybe then this act could
actually be tested in court."
LAW PROBABLY ILLEGAL
He admitted that the law is "probably illegal, if you
accept the Patriot Act as legal" -- and that viewpoint was shared by
veteran San Francisco trial attorney John Keker, who compared Arcata's ordinance
to local medical marijuana laws, which have been squashed in federal court
"I applaud Arcata, but the law is completely illegal,"
Keker said. "We used to have something called the U.S. Constitution,
and supposedly we still do -- and the Constitution says the federal law
is supreme in the land. So it's a nonstarter."
If City Manager Hauser or anyone else is hoping to stare down
some agent holding a Patriot Act subpoena, he shouldn't hold his breath,
cautioned LaRae Quy, spokeswoman for the San Francisco FBI office, whose
jurisdiction includes Arcata. She said there are no plans to go dashing
the 279 miles up to Arcata anytime soon. And even if there were, she doubted
there would be trouble.
"I really don't understand what the concerns are with
the act," Quy said. "What it did was primarily streamline existing
laws on the books. I know some people feel their privacy rights are being
violated, but I think there's some hysteria out there . . . some misunderstanding.
"We still have to show probable cause for any actions
we take," she said. "It's not just an agent descending and saying,
'Hey, I want to go in and see what this person is doing.' "
E-mail Kevin Fagan at email@example.com.
Web posted at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2003/04/13/BA283270.DTL
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