Pictured: A protest on Ventura city sidewalks that took place on May 1, 2020. Photo by Kimberly Rivers.
by Kimberly Rivers
On July 7, the city of Ventura posted information on its Facebook page about the “Free Speech Requirement” for demonstrations on public property in the city.
“Individuals throughout the nation, and here locally, have been joining together to have their voices heard through peaceful protests and free speech events. This past Fourth of July there were a number of free speech events held in the City of Ventura. These events did not go through the City’s special event permitting process and were not issued free speech event permits,” stated the post.
The post was in reference to protests and demonstrations related to the removal of the St.Junipero Serra Statue and the local Black Lives Matter movement.
“Courts have routinely upheld the ability of a government entity to require a permit for any free speech event occurring within a public space so long as the permitting requirements are viewpoint-neutral, serve a government interest, and the permit is issued promptly based on objective criteria,” said Megan Lorenzen, Assistant City Attorney for Ventura, responding via email to the VCReporter. She said the ability of a city to issue permits for these types of events stems from the interest in public safety and the need for “free flow of traffic on roadways and walkways.”
“It’s mislabeled,” said Glen Smith, litigation director and attorney with the First Amendment Coalition, a California-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend free speech and the public’s right to know about the actions of the government. He said that while the city can require a permit for organized, scheduled events, by calling it a “free speech” permit it is moving into a sticky area. They can of course have a “permit requirement for demonstrations on city property,” but it “can’t be specific for free speech events, and it can’t discriminate based on viewpoints.” He also cautioned the city from basing the granting of any permit on content of the event or the identity of the people who want to demonstrate.
Smith also clarified that any person can “set up a soap box” on public property and exercise their freedom of speech, and that it would not be appropriate for the city to attempt to require a permit for that type of action. When the events become “organized,” however, the city does have authority to require a permit.
Lorenzen pointed to two chapters in the city’s Municipal Code, Chapters 18.250 and 18.260, that require permits for use of public streets and “other rights of way” and specifically require permits for city facilities and parks.
Information about the permit requirements for the city of Ventura are online at: bit.ly/VenturaFreeSpeechPermit