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