The city of Lafayette will likely officially ask the state for help in getting supporters of former President Donald Trump off the El Curtola Boulevard overpass.
On the council’s agenda for its meeting Monday is a resolution asking Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol to enforce its own law when it comes to a group of regular demonstrators hanging signs and flags and waving at vehicles below on state Highway 24.
The city has spoken publicly, and contacted the state, multiple times since the protesters started appearing in August. City officials say the issue isn’t protesters’ political beliefs — it’s the fact that drivers are distracted and neighbors complain to Lafayette police.
In a letter set to be sent next week — assuming the council approves — Mayor Susan Candell asks both agencies to enforce “Streets Highways Code 720-734,” which states, among other things, “If any encroachment exists in, under or over any State highway, the department may require the removal of such encroachment in the manner provided in this article.”
“While the city of Lafayette recognizes and respects the First Amendment rights of all protesters, we are increasingly concerned about the safety of the motorists on the highway.”Proposed letter by Mayor Susan Candell
The encroachment, in this case, are the signs protesters affix to the fence.
“No action has been taken to correct it and the signs continue to be a distraction to the motorists,” Candell wrote. “The events have also attracted counter-protesters at various times; and one occasion, a counter protester grabbed a flagpole and threw it over the fencing to the highway below.”
“While the city of Lafayette recognizes and respects the First Amendment rights of all protesters, we are increasingly concerned about the safety of the motorists on the highway. We submit the attached resolution urging the California Department of Transportation and the California Highway Patrol to enforce the laws and regulations of the state of California.”
While the state owns the overpass, the residential sections on either side of the bridge are in Lafayette. Caltrans has told the city its employees will not approach the protesters. The city has explored expanding red parking zones near the bridge for safety reasons, as it said parked vehicles can block drivers’ view of pedestrians.
The city has also discussed attaching slats to the fence to prevent the hanging of signs, but determined at its last council meeting slats were too dangerous, as the bottom of the fence extends over the freeway. Caltrans says it removes any signs protesters leave.
The CHP provided the city accident statistics last month, essentially saying there were as many traffic collisions from May 1 to Sept. 30 in the area as there were from Oct. 1 to Feb. 22. Capt. Ben Moser of the CHP’s Contra Costa Area said in a letter dated Feb. 22, “The protests are occurring within the City of Lafayette and would primarily be the responsibility of Lafayette Police Department to respond and investigate any regulatory concerns of illegal activity.”
Moser also wrote “When notified of a protest, the CHP actively monitors highways within CHP jurisdiction for any impact on the safe and efficient flow of traffic.”