Three months after Adelanto city officials arbitrarily denied a permit to a community group organizing a small political protest at City Hall because they couldn't afford a million-dollar insurance policy for the event, officials moved this month to fix the city's misguided permitting scheme.
The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) commends the City Council for moving to address the problem by adopting a new ordinance for events on public land, and for dismissing misdemeanor charges brought against the organizer of the event.
Under the new rules, the city manager must use specific criteria to determine whether to issue or deny a permit and may exempt groups participating in political protests from the requirement that they obtain insurance. The city's new policy also increases the size of a group that can protest without a permit from 25 to 75, allowing groups of fewer than 75 people to gather on city property without first seeking permission from the city.
The new policy rightfully recognizes that the First Amendment prohibits the government from arbitrarily restricting citizens from speaking out, particularly when it comes to core political speech like a protest directed at government officials. As we noted in a previous post, Adelanto's permitting scheme raised grave constitutional concerns because it gave city officials unbridled discretion to impose conditions on permits or deny permits outright to groups seeking to protest government action.
The city's new policy, however, still leaves the city manager with a great deal of discretion in deciding when and to whom to grant a permit. We will be closely following events in Adelanto to ensure that city officials exercise this discretion in a manner that allows all residents to exercise their First Amendment rights, without arbitrarily denying permits or imposing excessive conditions on permits—such as requiring exorbitant last-minute insurance policies that price residents out of exercising their constitutional rights.
Michael Kaufman is staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. Follow ACLU_SoCal.