Drum Circle Activists' Free Speech Concerns Spur OC Parks to Rethink Stand on Ordinance

A dispute between an activist group that kept fliers on tables at a Laguna Beach drum circle and county officials who enforced a little-known ordinance that prevents printed material from being handed out or exchanged at OC parks has been resolved in favor of … both?


Basically, it comes down to this: a permit from the county will be required to distribute printed stuff in County of Orange-run parks and recreation areas, but the permits are free.

How it all came about was The Zeitgeist Movement–a “Sustainability Advocacy Organization” that conducts community activism based on the belief that most social problems like poverty, corruption, homelessness, war and starvation are symptoms of an outdated social structure–has long had a table with its printed materials and refreshments at the Aliso Beach drum circle.

But on Aug. 10th, an Orange County Parks official told them to remove the fliers and refreshments, citing this section of a county ordinance:

No person shall sell or distribute printed matter in any park, beach or recreational facility except in areas designated and under conditions established by the Director. No person authorized by the Director to sell or distribute printed matter shall obstruct, impede or otherwise interfere with the free movement of any person in a park, beach, or recreational facility.

The Zeitgeist Movement folks put a note on the table apologizing for being unable to share refreshments and fliers. But later, on their website, members wondered about the free-speech implications of the county law.

So the Weekly shared that link with OC Parks, and here is what Public Information Officer Marisa O'Neil emailed back:

The situation you reference in your email has prompted OC Parks to take a closer look at this ordinance (OCCO 2-5-32(a)) and the way it's enforced. The spirit of the ordinance is to prevent the distribution of materials from impeding or obstructing other park visitors' movement throughout the park, as well as to limit the amount of litter from unwanted handouts. In this case, it happened to be interpreted very strictly.

OC Parks staff is now working to finalize a policy to clarify the enforcement of this ordinance that will strike the balance between protecting park resources and visitor enjoyment with preserving the First Amendment rights of groups and individuals. The most likely outcome for this will be a simple, no-fee permit for those who wish to distribute printed material, and educating our park staff about the policy.

For now, we will be reaching out to the publisher of the blog and the individual or group that initially made the request to offer a no-fee permit that will allow for the distribution of the material as requested.

Another outdated social structure falls!

Email: mc****@oc******.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!

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