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Santa Monica Can Ban Holiday Displays at City Park, Judge Says

Federal judge denies request from local Christian group to allow the life-size dioramas at Palisades Park this Christmas. "There are multiple opportunities" for individuals or groups to put up displays on private property, city attorney says.

Santa Monica will not be forced to reopen spaces at Palisades Park to private holiday displays—including Christmas Nativity scenes—a federal judge said Tuesday, according to City News Service.

U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins denied a request for an injunction that would require the city to allow the dioramas to be displayed at the scenic seaside park over the holiday season while the case proceeds. She set a Dec. 3 hearing on a dismissal motion brought by the city.

The judge said the Christian group retains the right to present its Nativity scene on private property and other locations throughout Santa Monica.

In its lawsuit against the city, the Santa Monica's Nativity Committee, a nonprofit association of 13 local churches and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association, said the City Council's June decision to outlaw displays infringed on its members First Amendment rights and is "hostile to the Christian religion and our nation's religious heritage."

William Becker, the attorney for the group, told the Associated Press he will appeal.
 
"The atheists won and they will always win unless we get courts to understand how the game is played and this is a game that was played very successfully and they knew it," Becker told the AP after the hearing.

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The Nativity display was first placed at the park in 1953.

In the past couple of years, the city began receiving an unusually high number of requests to erect all sorts of displays. To accommodate all of the requests and to be more inclusive, it held a lottery in 2011.

But the Nativity Committee, which in the past had been allocated 14 spaces each year, was awarded only three plots. The other winners posted signs such as one that read "Happy Solstice" while most of the other spaces were never decorated.

In adopting the ban, city leaders said they feared allowing all comers, regardless of their messaging, could lead to further conflict and "nastiness" in the community.

City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie has argued the First Amendment prohibits the city from picking and choosing which displays to allow. 

While "the law doesn’t require us to take the step that the staff has proposed here, and we are within our legal right to continue the program as we have done it... I feel like we’re setting up a ring for a competition in Palisades Park," City Councilman Terry O'Day said at the time. "And it’s one that’s getting nasty."

Barry Rosenbaum of the Santa Monica City Attorney's Office said outside court that judge Collins had correctly recognized that "there are multiple opportunities" for individuals or groups to engage in free speech at various other points throughout the city.

He added that the Palisades Park case was "content neutral" and had nothing to do with the religious content of the display.

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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Brenda Barnes November 28, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Reply #2 to SantaMonicaNative: Then developers came sniffing around and gave us an eviction notice to close the Park and "keep the land vacant for investment" in 2006. The City of SM has spent the intervening six years trying to get all the residents to move, since everything about this is illegal and they needed there to be no opposition. What we have learned about the corruption here! Incredible! My son's daughter became a basketball star and made the varsity at Samohi as a walk-on at try-outs as a freshman. For the past three years we fought this development and made SM our real home, renewing old ties and making new ones.. Autumn got injured and decided she'd never be a pro anyway, and she'd rather have a home here she could afford and try out a career that might not make much money but would make her happy. I invested in this home 26 years ago for my grandchildren, knowing it was covered by rent control and we could never be evicted. Like hell the City will get away with this one. They let developers build more and more units so it was profitable to Ellis all the renters out. Now they're starting on homeowners and they figured this would be easy, since people are not automatically in favor of trailer parks. Wrong!. So we're starting a non-profit to get a storefront, apply for grants to fund us, and fight this legally, as to every single development agreement. Enough is enough. Actually, too much is too much, as you say, SantaMonicaNative.
Brenda Barnes November 28, 2012 at 10:52 PM
What is your freakin problem, Phil? I looked up all your comments, and you and I agree about everything, but you insist on being a jerk about this ban on seasonal displays in the Park. About the SLO Costco--you went to all the trouble and expense to call them and prove my friend is right, and then are you too lameo to see it? Where in that list you gave is there any CREDIT CARD except Amex and Costco cards, whatever those are? Really, I'm tired of this. The point is you cannot use Visa and MasterCard, as you can everywhere else. Get it? Not only should you be ashamed of yourself, you should be careful to stop alienating people who agree with you. Oh, wretched you, indeed. As a matter of fact, I think you are probably the only person in the world besides me who sees through "Judge" Finkel. Too bad you just refuse to get along. Maybe you should go to church more.
Brenda Barnes November 28, 2012 at 10:58 PM
We're trying to think of a name for our non-profit to stop the City from destroying everything that was unique about Santa Monica. I'm thinking SMACK--Santa Monicans Against Chaos and Killing--as in traditions, people's quality of life, and the spirit of Santa Monica.
PHIL HENDRICKS November 29, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Well, Barnes has meandered into contradictions, revised restatements of her statements, qualifications of her restatements of her misstatements, has come to conclusion without any basis, sees agreement where none exists, imagines solutions where none have occurred and now descends into ad hominem rambles full of misinformation, disinformation and pure imagination about pretty much everything at hand. In other posts she has claimed to be an attorney. In checking with the State Bar I find only a Brenda Powers Barnes, license #66805, admitted to the Bar in 1975 and has since resigned. Either Barnes is not an attorney or is not an attorney licensed in Calif. or is licensed under another name. If she is the Brenda Powers Barnes of the State Bar, resigned 1975, she should not be practicing law and no one should be relying on her for counsel. Barnes may be having a dissociative event and I urge anyone who knows her to check on her. I will make no more comments about her as, clearly, something else is happening too her, possibly as a result of the Trailer Park debacle.
Brenda Barnes November 29, 2012 at 06:48 AM
I never claimed to be an attorney. I said I practiced law. That is a past tense. I'm not reading anything else you write.

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