Saturday, November 7, 2015

City Bans Cheap Advertising

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Council,

            When I spoke to you last, I had been cited for signs.  I am happy to report that I have not been harassed at my protest since then, despite adding a 3rd sidewalk sign protesting the citation.  I pled not guilty last Tuesday, and on Monday served Police Chief Joe Henner with a request for disclosure of evidence.  My citation for Obstructing Traffic was dismissed on Tuesday by the officer who cited me.
            But I find myself in further jeopardy, thanks to City Manager Frasher dusting off a long-unused ordinance and deciding that it needs enforcement.  Sometimes a law is not enforced because it is such a bad law that the police dislike enforcing it.  Most bad laws are never repealed; they just fade away from lack of enforcement.  The “Materials on Sidewalks” ordinance, 5.36.020, is just such a law.
            This ordinance serves no proper governmental purpose that is not already covered by other statutes.  What it does is ban the cheapest, most effective advertising that some merchants have available to them.  It reduces visual competition with other forms of advertising, like kitschy city-blessed artwork.  And it effectively bans effective protest by a single person like me.
            I cannot conduct my protest without some materials on the sidewalk.  When I first started, 4½ years ago, I had one hand-held sign and a basket of goodies with my leaflet box leaning against it on the curb, and my CD player next to the light pole.  I added two chairs when the City took away its bench.  I added two wooden TV trays to display my bumper stickers and lean most of my stuff against, after my arrest for giving away pot cookies. 
None of these materials and equipment have obstructed traffic on the 12 foot wide sidewalk, even with the new sidewalk signs.  All of these things, from the basket and leaflet box on, violate this ordinance.  An ordinance that effectively bans peaceful, single-person protest cannot be constitutional.
Putting merchandise on sidewalks is the cheapest, most effective advertising there is.  That’s why I use it; protest is simply cheap, labor-intensive advertising of one’s views to a wide local audience.  Everything I do or have out there is advertising for my causes and my business. 
Business advertising and political protest are equally free expression, protected under Oregon’s constitution.  If the Oregon Legislature cannot regulate billboards along Oregon’s highways, how does the City think it can tell merchants how they can use their own sidewalks, so long as they don’t block traffic or create a hazard?
A downtown with signs and merchandise on display is a vibrant downtown; empty sidewalks make it look like the shops are closed, and do not lure shoppers to stroll.  The real question is:  why doesn’t the City care whether its merchants, large and small, sell merchandise and make money? 
That is a subject for another three-minute speech.

Rycke Brown, Natural Gardener                    541-955-9040                

5.36.010  Obstructing traffic.  A.  No person shall, except as otherwise permitted by ordinance, obstruct, cause to be obstructed or assist in obstructing pedestrian or vehicular traffic on any sidewalk or other public place.
B.  The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to the delivery or merchandise or equipment, provided that no person shall permit such merchandise or equipment to remain on any street or sidewalk beyond a reasonable time.
5.36.020  Objects or Materials on Streets, Sidewalks, or any other Public Way.  A.  No person shall permit any merchandise, equipment, or other obstruction to remain on any street or sidewalk.

B.  No person shall use any street or sidewalk or any portion thereof for selling, storing, or displaying merchandise or equipment except as may be otherwise provided by ordinance, or as might be specifically authorized by the Council.

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