Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The City of Arcata has turned down a permit request from the Humboldt Center for Constitutional Rights to hold a “free speech event” in Arcata’s Redwood Park on Monday, April 20. That location and date has, up until recent years, hosted an unofficial “4/20” cannabis celebration.
A press release from HumRights condemned the city’s permit denial as a “violation of constitutional rights” (see below).
“We want to stress that this is a not a marijuana issue,” said HumRights Outreach Director Kaci Poor. “This is an issue of prior restraint. This is an issue of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. The city should not be allowed to block off areas preeminently.”
The press release doesn’t offer details of the event, its starting time or duration. HumRights officials were not immediately available for comment.
City Manager Karen Diemer said Wednesday that she had received a letter asking that the city reconsider its rejection of the permit application, and that she planned to pursue it.
“We’ll set up a meeting with them to open dialogue,” Diemer said. “I don’t know what they want to hold.”
She said Redwood Park has limited parking, and is being redesigned to better accommodate large events, among other things. The lack of parking has complicated events much more modest in attendance than the former 4/20 gatherings, Diemer said, including the annual Shakespeare in the Park performances She said it has been more than a decade since a large event such as Bebop and Brew has been permitted there.
In its heyday, the 4/20 gathering attracted thousands to the park, though it had no officlal sponsor or permit, nor any provisions for security or sanitation. The event was preceded and followed by a flurry of petty crime, including camping, litter, shoplifting, trespassing on park neighbors’ property and other offenses.
Public outcry led police to strictly enforce anti-smoking laws in the park on April 20, eventually buzzkilling it into near-oblivion. Last year, just a small trickle of potential attendees turned up, but they were far outnumbered by one extended family's picnic.
The HumRights press release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Kaci Poor, Outreach Director, [email protected]
Jeffrey Schwartz, Executive Director, [email protected]
The Humboldt Center for Constitutional Rights
Redwood Park Permit Denial in Violation of Constitutional Rights
(Arcata, Calif.) — Today, the Humboldt Center for Constitutional Rights (HumRights) sent a letter to Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer, urging her to reverse the city’s denial of a permit submitted by the nonprofit for a free speech event at Redwood Park on April 20, 2015.
"The city has told us that we cannot use the public park to hold a free speech event on April 20," said HumRights founder Jeffrey Schwartz. "In doing so, the city says that police training has a higher priority than political expression."
In late July 2014, HumRights submitted an application to reserve Redwood Park on April 20, 2015. Shortly after submitting the request, an Arcata Recreation Division staff member informed HumRights that the Arcata Police Department had directed city employees not to allow reservations at the park on that day. The city directed HumRights staff to contact the police department directly about the reservation.
In September 2014, HumRights staff spoke with a police department lieutenant who explained that the department has a standing reservation at the park on April 20th of every year. The lieutenant stated that the department uses the picnic area, stage and building as a staging area and command post for public safety operations on that date. The lieutenant said the department would be happy to discuss sharing the picnic area with HumRights on that date.
When HumRights later contacted the lieutenant about sharing the space, he informed staff that he would no longer be able to move forward with discussions about sharing the space as a result of a federal lawsuit involving the city of Arcata and Redwood Park.
On December 23, 2014, the Arcata Recreation Division issued a denial of HumRights’ event permit.
On February 4, 2015, HumRights board members Dave Meserve and Marcy Burstiner, joined by Outreach Director Kaci Poor, addressed the Arcata City Council and urged its members to look into the permit denial as an unconstitutional act of prior restraint.
“We want to stress that this is a not a marijuana issue,” Poor said. “This is an issue of prior restraint. This is an issue of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. The city should not be allowed to block off areas preeminently.”
HumRights asks that the city reverse its event permit denial and reconsider its policy of blocking off Redwood Park to the public on April 20, 2015. Community members who would like to see the park re-opened to the public on that date are urged to contact Arcata Mayor Michael Winkler at [email protected], or 707-822-1857.