Proposed amendment to picketing ordinance in Riverside County to be revisited

The Press-Enterprise, California/February 23, 2009

Riverside County supervisors will reconsider today residential picketing restrictions that they suspended and sent back for revisions last month.

The amended picketing ordinance set to be introduced today differs from the earlier one in that it would limit protests targeting residences in unincorporated Riverside County to 30 feet from the property line instead of 50 feet from the property line.

Supervisor Jeff Stone has pushed for the ordinance, supported by the Church of Scientology. The church seeks to limit periodic protests outside its compound near Hemet.

It is unclear whether the latest version of the ordinance will satisfy supervisors who instructed county counsel Pamela Walls and the sheriff's office last month to return with "crystal clear," narrower and more effective rules.

Riverside County supervisors unanimously approved the 50-foot residential picketing restrictions Jan. 6 and also passed an urgency ordinance putting the rules into effect immediately.

But they suspended enforcement of the rules Jan. 13 after church representatives, the church's attorney, Samuel Alhadeff, and Walls could not pinpoint locations outside the Scientology compound where protests would be permitted.

The roughly 700-acre Scientology compound, which includes film studios, staff apartments, homes for church officials, offices and recreational facilities, sits on both sides of two-lane Gilman Springs Road in Gilman Hot Springs.

Stone and church officials say the ordinance is needed to keep the peace and protect the privacy and freedom of religion of the base's roughly 500 residents.

Protesters, who have spoken at several meetings, say they are not picketing the religion but physical and mental abuse that occurs at the compound - accusations that church representatives deny.

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