Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Supervisors Repeal Parks Code's "Designated Public Assembly Areas" Law

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 12:06 PM

  • Fred Noland
Back in July, we reported a brief story about Parks Code 7.08(d), an obscure rule that "dictates public assembly areas" for the city's parks. According to the law, which was established in 1981, demonstrations were prohibited in spaces outside those areas when a permitted event -- like a Ringling Bros. Circus, for instance -- was taking place. If memory serves, we noted that the location of the designated free speech zones were "precise, unmarked, and seemingly arbitrary, like that random corner of the club where guys awkwardly congregate to sip drinks, lean against the wall, and stare at the dance floor."

In the time since, the public assembly zone policy has crumbled like the Dodgers. Yesterday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to repeal the protest bans.

[See Also: Free Speech: Activists Challenge Parks Code's Protest Rules
and Supervisors Consider Eliminating Designated Public Assembly Areas in Parks]

The original point of the law, as the Parks Code explains, is "to prevent interference with the progress and enjoyment" of the events.

So, as we wrote, the city's most used parks had something like this going on:

When there's a permitted event at Justin Herman Plaza, you can picket in "the western portion of the Plaza at street level," but not "the east end below street level, including the steps leading down to that area." At Portsmouth Square, you have just a 50-foot radius from the parking garage elevators at your disposal.

This can cause confusion, as a group of animal rights activists learned last September when they tried to protest a Ringling Bros.-Barnum & Bailey circus in Union Square. First, police officers told them that they could only protest in a "designated free speech zone," a bike-rack-barricaded box in the southeastern corner of the park. Lawyer and Sergeant were called. The parks code was studied and discussed. Soon, all agreed that the protesters were allowed to demonstrate throughout the entire eastern half of Union Square.

The activists would go on to sue the city, charging that the Parks Code was "plainly unconstitutional" because "demonstrators were forced to adhere to an imaginary, unspecified 'free speech meridian' line," which limited their "ability to promote their message to the people attending and witnessing the circus' event." (To be sure, the Supreme Court does give government the power to control the "time, place, and manner" of free speech -- just not the content -- as long as the so-called free speech zones "are narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest.")

The Supervisors' revision of the policy was not intended to eliminate free speech zones. Rather, regulations on public demonstrations are now supposed to be more flexible, under the case-by-case discretion of the Recreation and Parks Department.

Follow us on Twitter at @SFWeekly and @TheSnitchSF

  • Pin It

About The Author

Albert Samaha


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"