Thursday, June 25, 2015

Artists' federal court lawsuit covered by St. Augustine Record Seven (7) Days After Filing and Reporting on This Blog (Pitiful!)

(Article fails to mention that art and music are crimes across a large swath of our Nation's Oldest City -- need more depth!)

Artists file suit against St. Augustine
Posted: June 25, 2015 - 12:12am
Four artists recently filed a lawsuit against the city of St. Augustine, challenging the constitutionality of vending regulations and reviving a contentious issue that has been battled in courtrooms in recent years.

St. Augustine artists Bruce Bates, Elena Hecht, Kate Merrick and Helena Sala are listed as plaintiffs in the complaint against the city, and they are seeking monetary damages as well as an order to cease enforcement of certain provisions of city code related to creating and selling art in public spaces.

And for the complainants, it’s not their first time challenging city rules in court.

The complaint was filed last week in federal district court in Jacksonville. As of Wednesday afternoon, the suit had not been served to the city, said City Attorney Isabelle Lopez. City commissioners declined to comment on the case, and city attorneys declined to weigh in on its merits.

Bates, who has a house and studio in St. Augustine, referred questions to his attorney.

Several attorneys are representing Bates and the other artists, including Tom Cushman, who has been involved in similar cases in recent years.

“They keep chipping away at the artists’ rights,” Cushman said of the city. “It’s hard to tell anymore where they’re allowed and where they’re not.”

According to the complaint, the court “struck down” in 2000 a version of a city ordinance that had content-based restrictions for vendors. In 2009, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against city rules that kept visual artists from displaying and selling work in the Plaza de la Constitucion, according to a previous story in The Record. Bates, Hecht and Merrick were part of that effort.

According to city codes, restrictions on street performers and street vendors are in place because congestion and clutter create safety risks.

The latest challenge to the rules says more restrictions have been added that are unconstitutional.

The complaint states that “the city of St. Augustine has repeatedly attempted to implement ordinances restricting the use of its public high-traffic tourist locations in relation to street performers and street artists. Since the 2009 injunction granted by this court, the city has incrementally cut back on the First Amendment rights of plaintiffs by implementing a series of new ordinances which extend the ban on the creation of art and the vending of art from a limited four block area of St. George Street, to include four additional streets, and two public parks within the city’s downtown area.”

Street performers and vendors are not allowed on the main portion of St. George Street and parts of other streets including Hypolita Street, but they have limited access elsewhere.

A current ordinance requires mobile vendors to apply for a license and pay $75 per month, as well as carry liability insurance and wear a badge. The hours of operation are restricted to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., which the complaint says is “burdensome because after 6 p.m. is when street artists make the most sales, as customers do not want to carry a piece of artwork with them all day.”

Violators of the ordinance can be penalized or fined.

Restrictions are also in place for spaces outside the Visitor Information Center. The market in the Plaza de la Constitucion is available via a lottery system and a $75 monthly permit fee, among other requirements. Permits are required for those who want to sell art from a parking space, sidewalk or using a cart or wagon. Mobile vendor’s licenses and peddlers permits are required for certain uses and carry costs and restrictions.

The complaint says the ordinances and their enforcement have had a “chilling effect” on the artists’ expression in the city.

Among the concerns in the lawsuit

■ Vending ordinances have restricted use of public meeting spaces throughout the city by prohibiting taking compensation for “their speech” without getting and paying for permission from the city.

■ The mobile vendors ordinance and peddlers ordinance “are permitting schemes which constitute an unconstitutional prior restraint. Specifically, while the ordinance seemingly provide(s) a time limitation for issuing a permit, the time limit is illusory, as the ordinance fail(s) to address an applicant’s right to begin operating the business in the event the city manager or city director of financial services fails to timely act on an application.”

■ The permitting process for the peddling ordinance “imposes unreasonable and overbroad restrictions on who may obtain a peddler’s permit.”

■ “The ordinances, which restrict art vending between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. reach too far and are not narrowly tailored to meet the stated purposes.”

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