Longmont’s Village at the Peaks to Permit Grocery Tax Repeal Advocates to Circulate Petitions
Supporters of a proposal to ask Longmont voters to end the city’s sales tax on groceries can resume circulating their ballot initiative petitions outside stores at the Village at the Peaks shopping center, they learned Friday.
On Wednesday evening, an Allied Universal security officer told a pair of signature gatherers, Natalie Menten and Sarah Levison, that they were trespassing and had to leave Village at the Peaks or be ticketed.
Menten wrote in a Thursday email to Longmont City Attorney Eugene Mei that she and Levison, a former Longmont city councilwoman, were on the sidewalk in front of Regal Cinemas, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and Marco’s Pizza at the shopping center in the 1200 block of South Hover Street.
The mall’s security staff contacted police, several officers showed up, and they told the two petition circulators they could be ticketed for trespassing if they did not leave Village at the Peaks, Menten wrote in her email — a copy of which was provided to the Times-Call by Paul Tiger, an organizer of UnTax Food, the group advocating ending the grocery sales tax with a November ballot initiative.
No tickets were issued after police warned the circulators.
Menten, however, wrote Mei that “I believe I was harassed and my First Amendment rights were restricted by police threats of arrest for trespassing at Village at the Peaks mall. I have suffered harm from this incident.”
Menten said in a Friday interview, “I am thrilled that I will be able to go back up to Village at the Peaks and continue to petition to remove Longmont’s tax on groceries.”
Menten did not name the other petition circulator in her email, but Tiger said it was Levison.
Levison said Friday that the police, some of whom she knew, were all polite and that the circulators were polite as well.
She said she and Menten had only been doing what’s legally allowed by exercising their constitutional right to talk about the tax-repeal idea and seek people’s signatures on the petitions.
Menten identified Sgt. Tim Madigan and officers Nathan Miller and Kurtis Hampton as three of the police officers who had showed up after the confrontation with the shopping center’s security officer in her email to Mei.
The Longmont police officers “stated that we were trespassing and would be ticketed or arrested (?) for trespassing if we didn’t leave,” Menten reported.
She wrote that she “clearly stated” to police that under a court decision she cited, “We had the right to be there.” She said one of the officers, though, “actually told me that a Supreme Court ruling doesn’t take precedence over city code for trespassing.”
On Friday, Alan Ginsborg, managing director and principal of Village at the Peaks developer NewMark Merrill Mountain States, emailed Tiger about the incident. He wrote the shopping center’s security team “has been notified that petitioners may gather signatures on the property.” He also apologized for any inconvenience the Wednesday night incident caused the group and said this is the first time any group formally asked permission to circulate petitions at the mall.
Ginsborg also thanked Tiger for a voice message alerting Ginbsborg about UnTax Food’s hopes to circulate the “UnTax Food” petitions in common areas of the mall.
Longmont Public Safety Chief Mike Butler said Friday that officers had responded to the security company’s call for assistance in the encounter with the then-alleged trespassing Wednesday night.
However, now that the UnTax Food’s representatives have Village at the Peaks’ permission to conduct their petition drive there, “Then there’s certainly no trespassing,” Butler said.
Tiger and Menten argued that there are a number of Colorado and U.S. court precedents upholding people’s rights to circulate petitions and distribute political materials in common areas and outside of some shopping malls and centers.
Butler said the issue is new for Longmont police and that it’s very complicated, with differing legal interpretations based on the type of shopping area involved — such as whether it’s a strip mall, an enclosed mall, or a collection of neighboring stores and businesses within a development.
“There are so many factors” to consider, he said.
Butler said officers will be trained on what citizens who are gathering signatures for petitions are allowed and not allowed to do after he consults with the city attorney’s office.
Ginsborg wrote in his email to Tiger that he and the other owners of the mall want to comply with the law on the subject and will keep doing so.
“However, under both the ... case you cite in your voice mail and the relevant Colorado case law, we are also entitled to impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions in order to ensure that such activities do not interfere with the fundamental purpose of the shopping center, namely to conduct commerce, or create safety or other hazards for the employees or public using the shopping center,” he wrote.
Ginsborg noted in his email that he was traveling and unable “to provide a more formal set of Village at the Peaks rules and regulations relating to activities taking place in the common areas, but will formalize this as soon as possible.”
In the meantime, he offered general guidelines the mall is asking signature gatherers to follow.
The guidelines are:
• Obey city and Colorado law at all times, including those specifically applicable to petition signature gathering.
• Do not stand or set up tables or other temporary equipment in the way of doors, sidewalks and other areas in a way that creates safety hazards or keeps people from walking directly through those areas.
• Do not harass or threaten people at the shopping center.
• A representative of the group should check in with security when beginning and stopping each day.
• Only gather signatures in common areas at the mall when it is open to the public.
Tiger said Menten, a member of the Regional Transportation District’s board of directors, is a Lakewood resident who helped lead the effort to get Lakewood’s City Council to eliminate Lakewood’s 2 percent sales tax on groceries in 2008.
She said Friday that she intends to resume gathering petition signatures at the mall Sunday.
Levison and Butler both said Friday that the presence of so many police officers in the area, and the rapidity with which they responded to the Village at the Peaks’ security company’s call, was partly due to the pending Fourth of July Fireworks display at the Boulder County Fairgrounds and other calls police annually get about illegal fireworks on that night.
Tiger said UnTax Food petition circulators planned to gather signatures Saturday at the Longmont Farmers Market, which leases its Boulder County Fairgrounds space from the county.
Boulder County Parks and Open Space Department director Eric Lane said in a Friday email to the Times-Call that petitions can be circulated in the area, but that the Farmers Market “can designate a place for that to happen rather than allowing petition clipboard people from walking everywhere throughout the market.”
Fairgrounds manager Joe LaFollette said in a separate email: “The Fairgrounds is designated as a ‘limited public forum’ for free speech purposes, it is an area that has traditionally been used to express First Amendment rights, subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. We typically find a place suitable for both parties and ask that it remains a peaceful protest or collection of signatures, etc.”
Tiger said that when he talked to LaFollette about UnTax Food’s proposed signature gathering at the Fairgrounds, “Joe wanted us to have a table at the north or south end. Could be the ‘free speech zone.’”
John Fryar: 303-684-5211, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jfryartc