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Censure of Solvang councilman Djernaes sought after PETA protest
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Censure of Solvang councilman Djernaes sought after PETA protest

From the What you need to know: This week's top headlines series
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Citizens Monday requested the Solvang City Council censure Councilman Chris Djernaes after he was seen cheering on and exchanging contact information with PETA protesters Oct. 10, in what Solvang Trolley & Carriage Co.’s owners characterized as ongoing discriminatory harassment of their business.

“I’m tired of worrying about harassment instigated by Mr. Djernaes every time I come to work,” said Lorena Rodriguez who runs the business with her husband, Hector “Sal” Orona, and their children, Sal Orona Jr. and Claudia Orona-Hudson.

Dejearnes, however, called the public outcry “a hit job promoted by the Orona family on me because they want to recall me.” He said he had been told the protestors were in town, and happened to walk into them.

In a video captured by Orona Jr. and posted online, Djernaes can be seen talking in close proximity and without a mask to protestors, most of whom were from out of town. He can be heard encouraging protestors to speak out during city council meetings, sharing contact information, and thanking the protestors for being there. He is also heard to name his PETA contact and saying, “I’ve been working with her. She’s from back East.”

City Attorney Chip Wullbrandt told council members at Monday's meeting they could not take such action except in “extraordinarily extreme circumstances.”

“The electorate elects City Council members, and the electorate makes that decision. You all don’t get to tell an elected City Council member, even if you don’t agree with their speech, as long as they are not, in fact, doing something that is interrupting the business process of your meetings or causing jeopardy to the city or having some other significant impact like that,” Wullbrandt said.

He added that elected officials don’t give up their First Amendment rights “no matter how foolish or not foolish or whatever they might say.”

“And, in fact, in America the voters get to vote people in and the process is they would vote people out. So the concept of censure, while it is available in extraordinary extreme circumstances, I’ve not ever seen it used in the circumstance of just somebody exercising their free speech rights that they could otherwise exercise,” Wullbrandt said.

An initiative to recall Djernaes is currently on the Nov. 3 ballot.

On July 14, by 3-1 vote with Djernaes dissenting and Councilman Daniel Johnson absent, Solvang Trolley’s business license was approved for an unprecedented five-year period ending the annual renewal process for the long-time, local horse-drawn-carriage company’s owners.

But Djernaes took issue with the company serving solely as a “de facto monopoly,” paying no parking in-lieu-of fees, encroachment fees, sales tax nor other direct, financial contributions to city coffers beyond the annual vehicle fee, and called the vote “pandering to the mob.”

Djernaes sought out Southern California-based Cinderella Carriages, which provided additional horse-drawn carriage service during Julefest 2019, and has since lobbied for additional carriage companies to apply for permits to provide competition in the city.

“There are residents in this community that are entitled to their own opinion but not their own set of facts, and the way they mischaracterized what happened Saturday was really pathetic and unfortunately does not advance the public discussion in any way shape or form,” Djernaes said during closing comments of Monday's four-hour council meeting.

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