Morning Report: The Seditious Language Law's Origin Story

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Morning Report: The Seditious Language Law's Origin Story

Illustration by Adriana Heldiz

The San Diego Police Department has cited dozens of people in recent years for violating a 1918 city ordinance that prohibits “seditious language.” That’s typically defined as language aiming to overthrow the government, although our recent reporting found a majority of the most recent cases cited “profanity.”

In a history lookback, VOSD contributor Randy Dotinga explored the law’s history and found it came to life in an era when the United States was rattled by wartime and worried about radicals. Just a month before Congress passed the Sedition Act in May 1918, San Diego’s leaders banned free speech in a large chunk of downtown. They eventually made public patriotism mandatory by forbidding anyone from criticizing the country.

Although the federal law was repealed after only eight years, San Diego’s own sedition law has persisted for a century and is still being used to ticket citizens.

City Council Boycotts Its Own Meeting

Most members of the San Diego City Council boycotted Tuesday’s closed session hearing in protest of City Attorney Mara Elliott’s decision to provide verbal rather than written legal reports after someone leaked information last week to NBC 7

Elliott told the City Council in an email Monday that the system for providing and securing confidential information had failed. In a follow-up statement to reporters, she said the City Council members were delaying important legal work without good reason. 

“Today’s shutdown wasn’t about transparency — it was pure politics,” she said. 

The Union-Tribune noted that the current system for distributing sensitive documents to elected officials behind closed doors already has some restrictions. For instance, recipients can’t print, forward or save, and lose access once the session ends. 

But by refusing to even let the City Council see the documents at Tuesday’s hearing, several members said it prevented them from doing their jobs, even if Elliott had offered the new restrictions on a temporary basis. 

Here’s what we heard from Council members.

  • Scott Sherman: “I couldn’t in good conscience vote on important closed session items without having the proper time to review the backup material.”
  • Monica Montgomery: She understood the concern over leaks, but “it is an assault on the roles and responsibilities of Council members” and “unacceptable as a legal practice.” 
  • Mark Kersey: “If in my personal or professional life my lawyer refused to give me critical documents before heading into meetings where big decisions were being made, I would find a new lawyer.”

Housing Commission Seeking State Cash for Hotels

The San Diego Housing Commission voted 4-0 Tuesday to give staffers the go-ahead to apply for state Project Homekey funds to help the city buy at least two unspecified hotels to house homeless San Diegans.

For months, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the Housing Commission have said they want to buy up hotels to help supply permanent homes for hundreds of homeless people now staying at the Convention Center shelter. They also included $29 million in the Commission’s budget for the initiative.

By May, those efforts seemed to hit a snag when the Housing Commission decided not to move forward with 10 hotel properties it had initially eyed.

Efforts to vet hotel properties continued behind the scenes as Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last month that the state would begin taking applications for a total of $600 million in grant funds to help cities and counties across the state acquire hotels to convert into homeless housing.

Housing Commission staff on Tuesday did not specify the hotels they are now pursuing but officials said they would move forward with applying for funds to purchase properties and provide services at them.

Housing Commission CEO Rick Gentry said the agency expects to reveal more details next month.

How the Virus Spreads

Atmospheric chemist Kim Prather, who’s part of a team trying to help schools reopen, will join us today on our livestream series Voice of San Diego at Home to talk about what she’s learned about the virus, its airborne qualities and how we can reset. Plus, our intern Kate Nucci will discuss her latest story about how a century-old law allows police to punish people on the streets of San Diego for speech they don’t like. Watch at 5 p.m. on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or here on our website.

In Other News

The Morning Report was written by Megan Wood, Andrew Keatts and Lisa Halverstadt and edited by Sara Libby.

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