Friends of Lafferty Park letter to the Sonoma County Supervisors appealing their conditional approval of the event permit for our February 24, 2002 "Walk to the Park"
Clerk of the Board of Supervisors
Dear Clerk of the Board of Supervisors:
Please consider this email, which is also being sent via surface mail, as a formal request for an appeal of the conditionally approved special event permit, SPE02-0001.
This permit is for a demonstration and road walk from downtown Petaluma to the gate of Lafferty Park on Sonoma Mountain, to take place this Sunday, February 24. The purpose is to call attention to the fact that the park is not yet open, and to call upon the county to take specific actions to help Petaluma open that mountaintop park. An estimated 100 walkers, some carrying signs, will walk on sidewalks in town, and on the shoulders of the county roads, obeying all laws and without impeding traffic. A local, grassroots nonprofit, Friends of Lafferty Park, is organizing the event, with myself as lead event organizer. We are planning more such events in the future, and have already started the permit application process for the next event on March 24, 2002.
According to my records, I applied to Sonoma County (and also, separately, to the City of Petaluma) for a special event permit by fax on January 25. I subsequently mailed in a $155 check for the permit application fee, which John Cossey of PRMD says he received on January 30. Mr. Cossey then informed me that we needed to purchase additional insurance coverage (we already were covered by a blanket liability policy), which we did at a cost of an additional $100.
On Friday morning, February 15, I received a call and a fax from Mr. Cossey informing me he was approving the permit subject to four new conditions:
1. THE APPLICANT SHALL SECURE THE SERVICES OF THE C.H.P. FOR ADVANCE AND REAR SECURITY OF THE WALKERS.
2. PARTICIPANTS OF THE WALK SHALL STRICTLY ADHERE TO THE DIRECTIONS OF THE C.H.P.
3. WALKERS SHALL TRAVEL SINGLE FILE AS CLOSE TO THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD AS POSSIBLE.
4. AT NO TIME SHALL ANY OF THE WALKERS CROSS OVER TO THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE ROAD WITHOUT C.H.P. APPROVAL.
For the record, we have no quarrel with conditions 2-4, which strike us as common-sense road safety guidelines. We will abide by them in the interest of good citizenship, although we do not consider them binding in that they were not, in our view, issued according to proper procedures, as outlined below.
The first condition, however, is problematic in that it places a crushing financial burden on our organization, and other local grassroots nonprofits, wishing to exercise "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," in the words of the First Amendment.
I have spoken with Lt. Dan Moore of the Highway Patrol about what condition #1 means in practice. He confirmed that the C.H.P. expects to recover the cost providing that county-mandated service, estimated to cost at least $400, from our organization, if the county will not pay for it.
So, I wish to make it very clear that we are appealing condition #1, in particular, on First Amendment grounds. We have already been required to pay $255 to the county for this one-day event, and now are being asked to pay several hundred dollars more. Whether or not this action by Sonoma County was intended to suppress political expression which, not incidentally, is critical of county policies, that is surely its effect.
As I noted above, we also applied separately for a permit to the City of Petaluma, as part of our event takes place within city limits. The contrast between county and city in the handling of these permits could not be more dramatic. Petaluma has explicitly language in its Municipal Code (Chapter 13.32, on our website at http://www.laffertyranch.org/history/petevtor.htm) allowing all fees and insurance requirements to be waived if the applicant claims, as we did, that the primary purpose of the event is 1st Amendment expression and the fee and insurance requirements would prove difficult or impossible to meet. The equivalent county code (Article VI, on our website at http://www.laffertyranch.org/history/specevt.htm) has no such provision. In fact, all its examples and assumptions apply to recreational and business events (filmmaking, parades, road races). There is no mention or thought given to political assembly or expression at all.
So I request that, short of changing its code to match Petaluma's (which would also be a good idea), Sonoma County ought to give special consideration to waiving fee and insurance requirements where the primary purpose of the event is 1st Amendment expression, and where the monetary requirements would prove burdensome and result in suppression of 1st Amendment rights.
Please also note that, while we did pay the initial $155 application fee and the insurance costs, we feel those costs are a serious impediment to our 1st Amendment rights as well. We intend to appeal such fees and requirements retroactively for the February 24 event, and will appeal them proactively for future events.
On a more mundane level, I also wish to appeal these conditions in that their application did not conform to the procedures specified in the Sonoma County Code. Sec.15-33 states, "Once the application has been filed, the permit will be either approved, conditionally approved or denied within ten (10) working days. A permit which is not acted upon within ten (10) working days shall be considered approved."
As noted above, I applied on January 25, but Mr.
Cossey tells me he starts counting days from January 30,
when he received my check. Ten working days later (allowing
for the holiday on Feb. 12) is Thursday, Feb. 14. I
Please let me know when this appeal will be heard by
the Board of Supervisors. I assume that will be
next Tuesday, February 26, since Section 15-34 specifies
that appeals must be heard at the next regular meeting of