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A group of residents who allege that Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear blocked them on her official campaign Facebook page are threatening a lawsuit after she allegedly didn’t comply with the terms of a previous settlement agreement.
They filed a Tort Claim with the city of Encinitas today, which is the first step before filing a lawsuit against a public entity or government employee.
Dozens of Facebook users last month accused Blakespear of blocking them or deleting their comments on her mayoral Facebook page after they left comments under one or more of her posts, The Coast News first reported.
The users said their comments were not threatening or harassing, but included questions, concerns and sometimes criticism of Blakespear.
Blakespear is running for the 38th State Senate District seat, and the Facebook page states that it also acts as her official campaign page.
The group, led by Robert Nichols, former chairman of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Blakespear and both parties reached a settlement agreement earlier this month. The group is represented by Michael Curran, an attorney at Curran & Curran Law.
Nichols said he has found up to 30 users that claim they were either blocked or had their comments deleted. They included former Encinitas Planning Commissioner Rubén Flores, former Encinitas City Council candidate Susan Turney, local firefighter Steve Meiche and former Encinitas Union School Board candidate Matt Wheeler.
Blakespear agreed to the terms of the settlement on May 16, which said that she had to unblock everyone, issue a public apology and pay $5,000 for the attorney’s fees of the residents who were represented.
On Saturday, Blakespear took to Facebook to issue her apology. In the 10-paragraph post, she said she receives countless threatening and harassing comments and messages on her personal social media pages, as well as her campaign pages, especially as a female political figure.
“To be very clear, I am not suggesting that the complainants posted or asked others to post any of the threatening, demeaning, or harassing content online that I detailed here,” Blakespear said in the post. “I am simply describing the environment that surrounds my social media pages.”
She went on to apologize to “anyone who didn’t have full access to [her] campaign Facebook page or other social media accounts.”
Blakespear also pointed out that the page isn’t an official city-sponsored or city-funded social media page and that no decisions are being made by the government on her social media pages.
But according to Curran, the page has become somewhat of a public forum, where agenda items, policies, and city and campaign business are discussed, therefore, blocking comments or users is a violation of free speech.
Blakespear’s apology post now has more than 600 comments, most of which are from people criticizing her apology and sharing their own stories of being blocked or having their comments deleted.
“I was blocked for simply asking for you to outline your ‘real solution to homelessness’ because I know that you do not have one,” Encinitas resident Jedidiah Stuber commented under her post. “This isn’t an apology as much as it is an excuse for why you believe that censorship is okay.”
Curran said Blakespear’s apology was disingenuous and that she still hasn’t paid the $5,000. But all the blocked users have since been unblocked, said Curran.
He confirmed that they filed a Tort Claim with the city of Encinitas today alleging free speech violations.
Encinitas will have 45 days to either settle or deny the claim. If they deny it or ignore it, it will be followed by a lawsuit, Curran said.
Blakespear’s campaign manager, Kevin Sabellico, told Voice of San Diego in an email that this is a “politically motivated right-wing attack.”
“There is no one who is blocked from the Blakespear campaign’s Facebook page,” Sabellico wrote. “We welcome all to participate in the campaign and hope people will practice civility in their interactions.”
Sabellico refused to answer my question about the $5,000 that Blakespear was supposed to pay as part of the settlement agreement.
Encinitas Councilmember Joy Lyndes was also accused of blocking a user on her Instagram account.
She told Voice that she blocked the user because she found their comment inappropriate. Within 24 hours she unblocked them and issued a public apology on her campaign website. She said all parties have since followed the terms of the confidential settlement agreement and the situation has concluded.
“It’s my understanding that it’s an area of the law that’s a little bit gray, and it’s getting clearer as time goes on, so I’ve learned a lot about it over the last few weeks,” Lyndes said.
In Other News
- Boating and fishing at the Lake Hodges reservoir in North County will be halted for about five months while the city of San Diego repairs cracks in the face of the Lake Hodges dam. Lake Hodges, often enjoyed recreationally, mainly serves as a source of drinking water for residents of the county. (Union-Tribune)
- The future of the KABOO music festival in San Diego is still uncertain as it’s wrapped up in a lawsuit with the San Diego Padres. The Padres claim that KABOO, which is attempting to return to Del Mar, violated a multi-year contract signed in 2020. The Del Mar Fairgrounds said they have not been in negotiations with KABOO. In the meantime, many people who purchased tickets for the 2020 festival have still not received refunds. (Union-Tribune)
- Carlsbad saw a 20 percent decrease in its unsheltered homeless population, according to the annual Point-In-Time data released last week. Countywide, San Diego saw at least a 10 percent increase in its homeless population. (KPBS)