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Security tightened at City Hall Jon Campbell | Thu, May 27 2010 04:38 PM

New security measures will go into effect in the coming weeks at Chula Vista City Hall, where visitors should now expect ropes cordoning off elected officials and possibly a police officer poking through their belongings.

According to Police Department spokesman Bernard Gonzales, the measures will include two velvet ropes on either side of the dais and signs informing attendees that their bags are subject to search. Both Gonzales and City Attorney Bart Miesfeld said the current municipal code already permits such measures as a way to preserve "order and decorum" in the council chambers.

Mayor Cheryl Cox, who is responsible for running city meetings and can give directions on matters like security, said she'd been discussing the added measures with police for about a year. Cox, who described the changes as minor, said they were prompted in part by news reports of boisterous public meetings in other parts of the country.

 "When people come to a council meeting they have a right to feel safe ... these (security measures) are the kind of low-key things that the police have always been able to do," said Cox. She said she didn't think most visitors would even notice the changes.

Gonzales described the changes as a reaction to concerns of a police officer assigned to City Hall during council meetings.

It seems that the informal bag-check policy may already be in effect. At a council meeting on Tuesday, one visitor was approached by a police officer who asked to look briefly into his backpack.

Council members Rudy Ramirez and Pamela Bensoussan did not return calls seeking comment, and Councilman Mitch Thompson said he did not know enough about the issue to offer an opinion.

Councilman Steve Castaneda said while the changes seemed minor, he didn't think they were necessary.

"I've been on that dais for six years and I don't think I've ever felt threatened physically ... we should be embracing the public, not telling them to stay behind the barriers," said Castaneda, who is running against Cox for mayor.           

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