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Changes to GRF Policy on demonstrators examined

By Sam Richards

Staff writer


Thursday, January 18 (1:30p.m.): Seeking a balance between allowing Rossmoor residents to express themselves freely and publicly, and to do so safely and without creating discord, the GRF Policy Committee will discuss over the next three weeks prospective updates to GRF’s “demonstration policy” governing protests within Rossmoor’s confines.

The Policy Committee discussed the issue at length at its Jan. 8 meeting, and Chairwoman Maxine Topper said a committee work group will present updates at its next meeting Feb. 12.

Rossmoor has had a demonstration policy ( since 2020, enacted in response to protests (local and national) of the death of George Floyd, a Black motorist, at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

While most demonstrations in Rossmoor soon after that involved clubs, by fall 2021 more of them involved individuals rather than groups. One woman, Mary Ellen Ratcliff, has been a fixture at the intersection of Golden Rain Road and Rossmoor Parkway with her generalized social justice messages.

Tom Cashion, Rossmoor’s public safety manager, told the committee that Ratcliff’s presence at that intersection has prompted some vehicles to slow down or even stop, with drivers sometimes engaging the demonstrator(s) in conversation. That is a clear safety hazard, Cashion said; separately, drivers honking their horns to acknowledge Ratcliff or others there disturb the peace, including that of residents on nearby Cactus Court.

“Honking horns is distracting to other drivers in that area – it creates an unsafe environment,” Cashion told the committee.

Topper stressed that the prospective changes to the policy are “not about Mary Ellen,” but that the more specific guidelines about how residents can demonstrate, and where, are needed.

Committee member and GRF Board President Dwight Walker noted that Realtors have indeed questioned GRF electeds about the “perpetual protest” at Rossmoor’s most heavily trafficked intersection, and about prospective residents’ concerns about having to contend with it.

Policy Committee members at their Jan. 8 meeting said the policy needs updating; GRF General Manager Jeff Matheson called the existing rules “very, very vague” about what is and isn’t allowed. A Policy Committee staff report said the current demonstration policy “removes the ability of GRF to curtail demonstrations that are outside the original intent of this policy or outside the character of Rossmoor.”

Walker said he was dismayed recently by a demonstrator near Golden Rain Road and Rossmoor Parkway – not Ratcliff – who was showing a sign that read “Hamas Go to Hell.”

Though Matheson said it would be practically impossible to approve all signage exhibited at various protests and demonstrations, Walker said, “We have to have more definitions” concerning what is allowable. Committee member James Lee agreed, saying GRF needs to have “objective reasons” why a given protest would, or would not, be allowed. Cashion said the demonstration policy is “out of compliance” with more restrictive Rossmoor News letters policies, GRF’s flier policy and with rules governing Resident Forum participation at GRF meetings.

Several residents offered comments to the Policy Committee on Jan. 8 about any potential adjustments to the demonstration policy. Their main message — don’t restrict the rights for Rossmoor residents to express their diverse opinions and viewpoints.

Charles Richardson said the “active” in “active adult community” should apply to intellectual activity as much as physical activity, especially in an increasingly diverse community like Rossmoor. “When you suppress expression, Rossmoor gets a different image,” she said.

Fellow resident Mary Taylor said she believes the nation’s divisions have only been widened in locations where opinions have been suppressed.

The full GRF Board will ultimately have to approve any changes to the demonstration policy. In the meantime, Cashion said he’s willing to speak with Rossmoor residents individually about the policy, and prospective changes to it.