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Demonstration debate heats up at Policy Committee meeting

Working group hashes out possible changes


Friday, February 23 (9:00 a.m.): The future of demonstrations within Rossmoor prompted impassioned discussion at the Feb. 12 GRF Policy Committee meeting. The meeting in Gateway’s Board Room drew more than two dozen residents, many of whom spoke of concerns about being able to peacefully protest within Rossmoor.

Policy Committee members’ discussion focused on potentially relocating protestors away from the busy intersection of Rossmoor Parkway and Golden Rain Road and about means of determining when protesters’ messaging would be deemed too offensive for Rossmoor. However, Residents’ Forum speakers mainly voiced concerns over free speech being squashed.

A working group from the Policy Committee has been drafting potential changes to the wording of Policy 103.5, plus a draft of an application to demonstrate. These efforts stemmed from a presentation during January’s Policy meeting by Public Safety Manager Tom Cashion, who cited safety concerns about drivers being distracted upon entering through the front gate and crossing Rossmoor’s busiest intersection.

After further hashing out changes to the draft at February’s meeting, the work group will come back with a clean version of proposed changes to present at the next Policy Committee meeting March 11.

Rossmoor’s demonstration policy went into effect in 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the ensuing protests around the U.S. and within the Bay Area.

Quite often, one resident, Mary Ellen Ratcliff, has been at the intersection just past the front entry, displaying various signs themed on social justice issues. Discussion has included possibly moving the demonstration location to a grass area near the pickleball courts.

Resident Frances Miller said she’s found Ratcliff’s signs to be a good thing.

“I thought to myself, here’s somebody with a conscience who is going to remind me to think about her issues, my issues, other people’s issues,” Miller said. “There was no sense of threat or fear or confrontation. She was just somebody with a message to us. And it would be sad to see that inability for a neighbor to speak to neighbors publicly.”

Commit tee members weighed which circumstances would prompt a denial of an application by the general manager for safety reasons or inflammatory content.

What would constitute the latter? Committee member Dwight Walker suggested that it would be visuals that might “shock the conscience of the community,” citing an example of a different resident who earlier this year was at that same intersection with a sign reading “Hamas Go to Hell.”

Walker said that while he agreed with the sentiment, it was inappropriate for a community sign. “Is that shocking the conscience of a community? I think it does,” Walker said.

When resident Barbara Phillips saw that particular sign, she said her reaction was, “This is too much, really.” She said that in general, she finds signs distracting.

“To me, it’s just a real hazard when you’re driving,” said Phillips, noting that she goes up and down the parkway several times a day. “It is just terribly distracting to me as a driver.”

Resident Mary Anne Clark spoke about comments Walker made during the January Policy meeting regarding complaints from Realtors and potential buyers about seeing frequent protests.

“First of all, Realtors and non-residents have no business determining policy for our community. … The Realtors’ job is to sell real estate; it is not to dictate our behavior,” Clark said.

“Protests are composed of people who have concerns. Many of us are boomers who grew up during turbulent times, and the way we could make our voices heard was through protests.”

Committee Chair Maxine Topper thanked the residents for attending and speaking during Residents’ Forum.

“All of the comments that everybody made really help us and allow us to think through all of these decisions,” Topper said.

Renaming, and a consolidation of, trails within Rossmoor also will get further discussion, as General Manager Jeff Matheson gathers information about past protocols for the naming of trails.

GRF Landscape Manager John Tawaststjerna has been meeting with members of the Trails Club in efforts to rename several Rossmoor hiking trails to simplify what he called a complicated system and eliminate any trails named after past residents. The Trails Club has endorsed the proposal, and a member of the club has drawn up a draft of a map.

Wording on memorial plaques and benches within Rossmoor also was discussed, and wording parameters that would be presented to donors applying for such memorials will be worked on ahead of the March Policy meeting.