County mulls idea to regulate free speech activities
SAN DIEGO — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday delayed a vote on a controversial proposal to require permits for large groups conducting political activities at the Waterfront Park outside the County Administration Center.
After some discussion, the supervisors decided more time was needed to review the proposal and make changes before going to a vote.
A report by county staff says the park, since opening last year, has become a popular venue for people who wish to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech. They gravitate to the busier sections of the park, like recreational areas and walkways.
Groups of 200 or more people involved in free speech activities would be required to obtain a First Amendment Activity Permit and conduct their event in one of several designated park zones that would not interfere with government operations, according to the proposal.
Groups that bring amplified sound equipment, tables, chairs and other staging equipment would also be required to obtain a permit, regardless of the size of the group.
If such groups do not acquire a permit ahead of time, they would be offered a chance to relocate to a free speech zone. If none is available, they would have to leave to park, according to the report.
Supervisor Dianne Jacob expressed concern that all county parks should uphold the same rules regarding free speech activities, though the Waterfront Park is far more widely used than others.
“This doesn’t make sense to me,” Jacob said. “I think it’s mischaracterized. All of our parks should be treated the same and have the same rules.”
Other county parks have designated free speech zones, but do not require permits, according to county staff.
Jacob suggested staff consider requiring groups to obtain a special events permit, rather creating a new permit for First Amendment activities.
The city of San Diego does not require free speech permits for protests regardless of size, according to Kate Yavenditti of the National Lawyers Guild.
County staff said individuals and groups have exercised their First Amendment rights as public speakers and via artistic performances, musical performances and distribution of handouts, pamphlets and other forms of written communication.
Many law groups and members of the public expressed concern that regulating free speech at the Waterfront Park would limit San Diegans’ First Amendment rights. County staff met with members of the San Diego chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday to discuss their concerns.
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 supervisors will revisit the proposal on July 21.
Their meeting was briefly interrupted when fire alarms went off in the County Administration Building, which was evacuated as a precaution, but no fire was found.that the Boston-bred band will mirror the Stones here next week.
On Wednesday night, Aerosmith will perform at Petco Park. Yes, that’s the same Petco Park where the Stones drew 42,000 fans to its tour-opening May 24 concert, followed by a private show May 27 here at the 600-capacity Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.
The twist is that Aerosmith’s Petco concert is a private show for the Cisco Live! convention here. Or as private as any loudly amplified stadium concert can be that takes place in the midst of a thriving downtown area in a major American city.