The Watsonville City Council made the right choice Tuesday when it voted to end—at least for now—public participation by Zoom.

In October, both that body of elected leaders and the Capitola City Council were subjected to a series of hateful, expletive-filled racist comments from people who hid behind the anonymity of the teleconferencing platform during their public meetings.

While freedom of speech is one of the most sacred rights we as Americans possess, it is common sense that this right must be weighed against our right to not be victimized by bullies. As the old adage goes, your right to swing your fist ends at my nose.

Watsonville City Attorney Samantha Zutler told the council that public comment can be stopped under two circumstances: when it is so disruptive that it hinders their ability to conduct business, and when it falls outside the city’s subject matter jurisdiction.

The so-called Zoom bomb comments fell under both those categories, and I appreciated the city’s decision to shut down its Zoom option until Tuesday’s meeting.

It was also pointed out by Councilman Casey Clark that the council has the right to enforce its rules of decorum for in-person participants, an option I have seen employed at a handful of public meetings.

This typically happens when a crowd gets so disruptive that the council or board cannot hear, or when they refuse to obey a fire marshal’s order to leave.

Watsonville Mayor Vanessa Quiroz-Carter said during Tuesday’s meeting that hate speech is protected, and as a journalist with a passion for the First Amendment and a vested interest in the idea of Freedom of Speech, I agree wholeheartedly.

But that is separate from whether such speech should be allowed wherever one might wish to utter it. 

If in the future the city finds a platform with a “kill switch” to stop hate speech in its tracks, then by all means they should bring it back. 

Yes, we as adults, and elected leaders in particular should have thick skin and be able to weather slings and arrows from those who would speak against us. 

Still, giving elected leaders the tools to shut down hate speech—to be used sparingly and in extreme situations to be sure—is essential to making sure that they can do the work we need them to do.

Todd Guild has been with The Pajaronian since 2007. He became Editor in January 2023.
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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


  1. Todd,
    Sorry to say but your opinions voiced here is a cop out. I believe that a kill switch exists and the zoom calls can be time delayed just like live callers to radio shows. I believe that you know in your heart of hearts that it is the easy path for council members to stop the zoom calls altogether. In this era of technology and free speech this decision shows the weakness of our city leaders to find a solution. Stand up to racism don’t deny free speech. Find a way there is always a way to hear the citizens who are disabled or not able to attend in person meetings!

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  2. “ While freedom of speech is one of the most sacred rights we as Americans possess, it is common sense that this right must be weighed against our right to not be victimized by bullies.”

    Freedom of speech is in our constitution. Your right to not be “victimized by bullies” isn’t.. what is there to weigh?

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