A decision by the city of Menlo Park to deny a special event permit application to a man seeking to run a one-man protest on Sand Hill Road with a semi-automatic rifle was upheld by the City Council with 4-0 vote at a special meeting Aug. 29, held to discuss an appeal of the matter. Councilman Ray Mueller was absent.
The permit applicant, Michael Zeleny of Los Angeles, had proposed to park a truck on the median of Sand Hill Road near the Interstate 280 entrance and exit, display loaded and unloaded firearms, distribute documents to the public and run a generator to operate a 55-inch digital video monitor, according to City Manager Alex McIntyre.
Mr. Zeleny says his protest is in opposition to a venture capital firm that neighbors the Rosewood Sand Hill Hotel. According to previous Almanac coverage, Mr. Zeleny claims the firm employs a former business partner of a man that Mr. Zeleny alleges is tied to a rape that occurred nearly 30 years ago.
When Mr. Zeleny's application for a special events permit was recently denied by the city, he continued to appeal the matter.
City Attorney Bill McClure reminded him in a May 2016 letter that it is illegal to open-carry an unloaded or loaded weapon in California. Even if Mr. Zeleny were to use a legal exception to the rule that allows people to carry unloaded firearms for entertainment events or filming a movie, it's still not legal to carry ammunition alongside or near the weapon, Mr. McClure noted.
Other safety concerns were raised about Mr. Zeleny parking a vehicle on the median, blocking the sidewalk, and using lights and a video display that could impair or distract drivers.
City staff said Mr. Zeleny did not need a special event permit anyway, because the event was a "one-man protest" that did not require community participation. According to a letter by Mr. McIntyre, Mr. Zeleny does not need a special event permit to conduct a protest, so long as his actions comply with the law.
"The lack of need for a permit shows the City is not preventing your protest or (has not) prevented you from displaying your message," the letter says. "The City is using its police power and common sense to regulate the time, place and manner of your proposed free speech protest. The City has a compelling interest in public safety and a protest in the median would place the (drivers), cyclists, pedestrians and you in danger."
While protests are not allowed on city medians, they are allowed on sidewalks (as long as pedestrian access is not blocked) and in city parks and plazas, Mr. McIntyre noted.