County considers free speech regulation at Waterfront Park

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SAN DIEGO - The San Diego County Board of Supervisors are considering a new regulation that some say hinders on their First Amendment.

“Free speech is what it is,” said San Diego resident William Joey Dorsett in response to the proposal.

Street performers like Dorsett along with protestors and demonstrators would be affected by the regulation the most, which aims to tighten rules for free speech zones within the Waterfront Park.

Supporters are asking for groups larger than 200 to obtain a permit for one of several designated free speech zones.

If such a group does not acquire a permit ahead of time, they'll be offered a chance to relocate to a free speech zone. If none is available, they'll have to leave to park, according a report conducted by a county staff member.

Groups under 200 will not require a permit unless they bring tables, chairs, amplified sound, booths or other standing equipment.

“Restricting free speech to zones is a direct violation of the constitution,” said Dorsett, who fears he will have to start paying a fee if the regulation passes. “There are a lot of us that live off of being buskers.”

According to the report, the park has become a popular venue for people who wish to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech since it opened last year.

“When you start putting time, place and manner restrictions on free speech activities the Supreme Court looks very carefully,” said civil rights attorney Chris Morris.

Morris cited that the county could potentially face a lawsuit unless it shows a specific reason why protestors and performers need to be regulated.

“There will need to be an interruption of real day to day governmental activities,” said Morris.

The proposal also includes amendments that would apply to all county parks and involve commercial photography, noise levels and a ban on posting materials on park property.

The Board of Supervisors did not make a decision on Tuesday. They postponed the meeting for July 1 pending more information.

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