The lights of hundreds of candles will stretch across the shoreline of the South Bay Friday, July 12, including on the Manhattan Beach pier, as part of a vigil called Lights for Liberty.
The event will be part of an international effort of vigils across the world that night to protest conditions faced by migrants at the United States border.
Councilmember Hildy Stern, who is helping to organize the Manhattan Beach event along with an unofficial group of community members, brought the item before city council at a meeting Tuesday.
“This effort is purely community-to-community, up and down the coast, throughout California, across the country and world,” Stern said during a 3 minute, 39 second prepared statement. “We will end at 9 (p.m.)...with all in attendance lighting a candle and look up and down the coast to see the same lights in Redondo and Hermosa, in Santa Monica and Venice, knowing that all over this country and the world, thousands of people will be doing the same.”
Stern estimated a few hundred people will attend the event on the pier which include guest speakers.
“We will be discussing solutions. We will have people from the community talking about their efforts and ways we can get involved,” Stern explained.
She asked on behalf of the local group planning the vigil for a special permit as well as a fee waiver for the $2,164 the city typically charges.
That cost includes an application fee, fire inspection fee, two chief security officers and a sound permit.
“Please don’t let the inability to pay the fees be a barrier to supporting this humanitarian effort,” Stern said.
The vigil doesn’t qualify as a special event based on the city’s current laws, according to Parks and Recreation Director Mark Leyman.
“Per our policy, it really doesn’t fit,” Leyman said. “It’s a bit challenging, a bit unique…it doesn’t fit into any criteria we would look at for a special event.”
Leyman added that most vigil-type events are held more spontaneously and with less notice.
Councilmember Richard Montgomery said groups looking to hold vigils typically show up without requesting permission for a permit.
“That night when we had the 9-11 memorial, people just showed up. It wasn’t a permit,” said Montgomery, who was mayor pro tem at the time.
He added that more than 300 plus people came to Manhattan Beach for that vigil.
“It went perfectly. It was last minute, spur of the moment, no PD extra, no public works sitting there, it just happened...so I don’t think a permit is a necessary key here...you want to assemble, it’s your right. Have at it,” Montgomery concluded.
Councilmember Steve Napolitano agreed there was no need for a permit and said he didn’t believe any additional city resources such as extra law enforcement would be needed for the event.
“At that time of the day, I don’t see a couple hundred people being any more or less than what you would have on a summer evening down at the beach, down by the pier anyway,” Napolitano explained. “I’m fine with it going forward as is.”
Not all members of the panel were as supportive, however, with Councilmember Suzanne Hadley expressing shock and disappointment that her fellow leaders brought the topic to the dais.
“You do you, it sounds like it. We’re neither blessing nor condemning your free speech,” Hadley said. “I really just must go on the record here at my dismay of the personal use of this podium for clearly political agendas. Politics does not mean partisan. This vigil has literally nothing to do with the city of Manhattan Beach. We have wasted taxpayer time with the lengthy reading of your opinions, Councilmember Stern.”
Stern, who represented a group of 20 community members helping to organize the vigil, urged it was a grassroots effort—a fact backed by residents who spoke at the meeting and said the event is currently being advertised at local churches and synagogues.
“This was a community effort and I hope that was clear to others,” Stern countered. “This is brought before the city council because this is something that matters greatly to Manhattan Beach.”
Mayor Nancy Hersman, who requested to add the item to the agenda, said it was important to note that the vigil was apolitical and focused on the conditions happening at the border, not immigration issues.
“I do think that it is important for us to support vigils like this. Here we are on our 4th of July and thinking about what it means to be an American,” Hersman said. “One of the number one things to me is our ability to tell our government we don’t like what they’re doing. That First Amendment right. I hope that the vigil will go ahead and go forward.”
Ultimately council did give support for the local Lights for Liberty vigil sans permit but discussed the need to update Manhattan Beach policy to address events like this in the future.
“We should come up with some kind of protocol for this going forward because... what is the next one? I don’t know what it is for. But we can’t waive fees for everybody for everything,” Napolitano said.
“I think the protocol should be that we never waive fees for any nongovernmental vigil,” Hadley said.