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Letter to Mayor Ross Anderson Asking for Clarification of Salt Lake City’s Proposal to Accommodate Free Speech Activities During the Olympic Games

10 August 2001 Published in Legal Advocacy

Letter to Mayor Ross Anderson Asking for Clarification of Salt Lake City’s Proposal to Accommodate Free Speech Activities During the Olympic Games.

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ACLU of Utah Asks Mayor Ross Anderson to Clarify Salt Lake City’s Proposal to Accommodate Free Speech Activities During the Olympic Games

August 10, 2001

By Facsimile and U.S. Mail

Mayor Ross C. Anderson
451 South State Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84111

Dear Mayor Anderson:

On August 1, 2001, Salt Lake City announced its plan for accommodating free speech activities during the Olympic Games. We first learned of the plan from the press. We initially declined to comment, hoping to learn more about the plan. We attended the open house to gather additional information. Unfortunately, not much additional information was forthcoming, so we answered press inquiries as best we could based on the little information available. Our reaction was, and is, that the plan pays lip service to the First Amendment while seeking to marginalize and effectively silence the thousands of people who may wish to attend the Olympics to engage in lawful free speech activities. We hope we are wrong. We therefore write to request additional necessary information. Please consider this letter a request under the Utah Governmental Records Access and Management Act, Utah Code Ann. §§ 63-2-101 et. seq.

Let us review what we understand to be principal features of the City’s plan:

(1) The City has permitted a nine square block area in central downtown to SLOC. The fenced off area, or the Salt Lake Olympic Square (“SLOS”), encompasses all of the major venues for Olympic events in downtown Salt Lake City, including the Delta Center and the Medals Plaza, as well as the Main Media Center. The City has designated 2 areas within SLOS – one near the Delta Center, and one near the Medals Plaza – to accommodate a maximum of 10 protesters each. It is unclear precisely where the sites actually will be and how large they will be, and therefore it is difficult to determine whether they will provide meaningful access to protesters’ intended audiences.

(2) The City has designated two areas in the vicinity of SLOS – one near the North entrance, for a maximum of 30 demonstrators, and one near the East entrance, for a maximum of 20 demonstrators. Again, it is unclear precisely where these site will be, and how close they are to the entrances, but they appear to be 400’ to 500’ away. It is therefore unclear whether they will provide meaningful access to people entering SLOS.

(3) The City has designated one area in Pioneer Park, near the primary spectator loading/unloading location, for a maximum of 100 protesters.

In short, the proposal allows a maximum of 170 demonstrators at any given time, spread across five “designated forums.” As we understand it, these are the only areas that demonstrations will be allowed in a 16 square block (2 square mile) area of downtown Salt Lake City, which comprises a number of “traditional public forums.” If one considers only the public sidewalks within and around that area, one can estimate that they comprise several linear miles and hundreds of thousands of square feet – of which only a tiny fraction has been designated for free speech activities. On its face, this does not seem to be either a reasonable or even a workable accommodation of the thousands of protesters that may attend the event with the desire lawfully to share their views.

Another part of the plan is what appears to be a new, ad hoc permitting scheme. That scheme will be administered by an “Olympic Omnibus Advisory Committee.” We have not seen any legislation authorizing this body or describing its composition or duties, nor do we know what criteria it will use to decide who gets to use what area when. All the City has said is that this body will be in charge of evaluating requests for permits both within and outside the 16-square-block area discussed above “on a case-by-case basis,” and that applications, available September 1, will be reviewed on a first-come, first-serve basis. All groups interested in demonstrating apparently must reapply under this new scheme, even though several have had permit applications pending for months under the existing ordinance governing organized free speech activities in Salt Lake City.

It is unclear to us whether what the City has announced is in fact a proposal or a final plan. It may well be that the plan is a proposal, since we are not aware of any City Council or other action that might be necessary to authorize such an ad hoc departure from the City’s existing free speech ordinance. It may also well be that the above summary is incorrect or incomplete because we are operating with limited information or because we misunderstand some important aspect of the plan. If so, it is not because we have not tried to obtain all the relevant information. So that we can more fully understand and evaluate the City’s plan, please provide the following specific information:

(1) All documents reflecting the current terms, status and effect of the City’s plan.

(2) All documents depicting or describing with particularity the precise location and size of each “designated public forum,” along with a detailed description of any surrounding or adjacent structures or other physical features, whether permanent or temporary, that would interfere with or in any way affect the ability of those using each area to communicate their messages.

(3) Any ordinance or other legislation establishing and authorizing the “Olympic Omnibus Advisory Committee.”

(4) All documents referring to or describing that Committee, its composition, its duties, and the standards it will employ in reviewing permit applications and allocating access to the proposed “designated public forums” as well as traditional public forums in Salt Lake City.

(5) All documents referring to or describing facts or considerations supporting the reasonableness of the City’s plan in accommodating free speech activities during the Olympics.

(6) All documents, including any legal memoranda or other authority the City Attorney’s office, SLOC or others might have prepared in connection with the plan, that the City believes demonstrate or support the reasonableness of its plan.

Finally, we would appreciate receiving any clarifications and corrections to the above summary. We look forward to receiving the City’s response within ten days.

Sincerely,

Stephen C. Clark
Legal Director

 

cc: Justin Toth, Esq.