ACLU says Boulder can't require permission for protesters to use parks

The Boulder County ACLU has come out in firm opposition to a proposed ordinance that would require approval from the city manager to allow protesters to gather in city parks. Although the topic is still in the brainstorming stages and won't merit a decision for months, its opponents fear it could place limits on Boulder residents' First Amendment rights by forcing them to gain permission before using it. And the measure has already been shut down once.

Earlier in the year, Boulder's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board unanimously turned down a fully drafted proposal from the Boulder City Attorney's office, calling it unnecessary and restrictive. But city officials continue to push forward: According to the Boulder Daily Camera, a memo from City Manager Jane Brautigam released earlier in the week indicates continued support of the measure, albeit with a change in position regarding spontaneous protests.

As originally written, the ordinance would make it necessary for activists to contact Brautigam for a permit for any event with more than 25 protesters that doesn't adhere to a so-called "advocacy area." The list of approved advocacy areas includes Central Park and the lawn in front of Boulder's municipal building.

A group smaller than that and willing to stay in those spots would be exempt from the ordinance, but any event that is larger or held outside those boundaries would require its organizers to apply for a permit from Brautigam a minimum of five days before the event. Spontaneous gatherings, prompted by news or other public events publicized three days or fewer in advance of an event, would also be exempt from the latest version of the plan. From there, Brautigam would be allowed two days to decide -- and too much responsibility by being allowed to do so, according to the ACLU.

In a letter to Boulder city officials, Judd Golden, director of the Boulder County ACLU, says the restrictions under consideration specifically target Occupy Boulder. Golden labels the measure an "unreasonable overreaction, like the recently-enacted nighttime parks closure." In January, during the height of the city's Occupy movement, Brautigam finalized an ordinance that closed all Boulder parks (like the one where Occupy Boulder had met until that point) to the public overnight.

"The Boulder County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado (ACLU) urges the Boulder City Council to reject this current proposal," Golden writes. "We propose the City instead adopt a limited and narrowly-drawn no-permit reservation system ordinance that would allow a group exclusive use of a specific park or public space at a specific time for First Amendment activity. Public parks and the public will be adequately protected by this system, and by the enforcement of existing ordinances."

Although the permit application process is cost-free, Brautigam could ask for damage fees from large groups in advance of their protest.

Inside the letter, which is on view below, the Boulder County ACLU responds to each restriction of the ordinance as drafted -- protest zones ("cages"), cleanup costs ("no fee...should be required"), event sizes ("unduly" burdensome), protest times ("unreasonable"), damage deposits (both "unreasonable and burdensome") and the need to submit an application: "The public should not have to ask for the government's advance consent to protest against it."

The Boulder City Council is expected to make a decision regarding the ordinance by the fall.

For more details, read the letter in its entirety: ACLU Boulder Parks Permission Response 2012

More from our Politics archive: "Occupy Boulder to see same park curfew ban Occupy Denver faces."

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Kelsey Whipple
Contact: Kelsey Whipple