San Luis Obispo County accused of attempting to restrict free speech
July 23, 2012
San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors are set to consider a draft ordinance on Tuesday that both conservative and liberal groups have dubbed an unconstitutional attempt by the county to squelch free speech and limit a person’s right to assemble.
“No person, group, or organization shall make use of County facilities or vacant land for public gatherings, meetings, conferences, rallies, assemblies or other similar purposes, without first having obtained a permit therefore and at rates established in the fee schedule adopted by the Board of Supervisors,” the draft ordinance says. “The provisions of this section shall not apply to meetings of public agencies and officials or County employees in the performance of the duties of their office or employment.”
Jim Griffen, a member of Occupy San Luis Obispo, contends this ordinance is but another example of the chipping away of the rights and freedoms of Americans under the guise of homeland security.
“The upcoming vote by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors on an ordinance to ban the practice of normal civil liberties on county ‘property’ is a slap in the face to all those who value freedom of expression and democratic rights,” Griffen said. “All progressive and liberties conscious people, movements and organizations must ban together to fight and defeat this attack on the Constitutional rights of all of us — in the courts, in the halls of government and in the streets.”
Failure to abide by the proposed ordinance is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the San Luis Obispo County Jail for not more than six months, or by a fine of not more than $500 or by both.
In addition, the proposed ordinance would ban people from distributing handbills that solicit donations at county facilities or vacant land.
“No person shall distribute, circulate, give away, throw, or deposit on the ground, post or affix to any tree, fence, or structure situated at any County facility or on vacant land, any handbills, circulars, pamphlets, papers, notices, or advertisements, which material calls the public attention in any way to any article or service for sale or hire, nor shall any person solicit or collect donations of money or other goods from the public at any County facility or on vacant land, without a permit issued by the Director or designee,” the ordinance says.
The Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB) has serious concerns about the constitutionality of the ordinance, said Mike Brown, COLAB’s governmental affairs director.
“Does this mean that the North County Patriots Tea Party cannot solicit donations at a rally on the Courthouse lawn without a permit issued by the General Services Director? How about the Board of Realtors, the San Luis Obispo Cattle Women’s Art Show, the NAACP, the Navy League, or CAL Poly ROTC, etc.? What if the matter is urgent, sudden, and compelling? What if there is not time to get a permit? What if the General Services Director and CAO don’t like the organization or their flyer?, “ Brown said in a COLAB weekly update.
On Tuesday, the proposed ordinance is the first item on the agenda to be discussed at the 9 a.m. SLO County Board of Supervisors’ meeting.