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Doug Coursey

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August 24, 2014
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Over-reaching Outdoor Events Ordinance needs to be stopped

On Aug. 12, I attended a mind-numbing Board of Supervisors meeting, with a morning session to review the Outdoor Events Ordinance and an afternoon session to review the same ordinance.

I obtained my “clean copy of the Outdoor Events Ordinance” that same day from our County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green, who was very helpful and explained to me the background and the intention of the ordinance. No small task.

I read and studied the ordinance, obviously something few members of the public who spoke that day had done. (I urge all of the voters in this county to obtain a copy of the Outdoor Events Ordinance and read it. For a copy, call the Board of Supervisor’s office at 530-265-1480, or see this story at TheUnion.com).

In the ordinance, the term “Outdoor Event” is defined as “…any outdoor gathering … which is held at any place other than a permanent building which has been permitted … for the purpose of housing such activities”.

It would seem to me that by definition that includes my family getting together in my backyard for a barbecue.

The term “Commercial Outdoor Event” is defined as “… an outdoor event which any fee or other financial consideration is charged to vendors, sponors, promoters or attendees for participation in ... the event.”

There is no clarification of what it means to “charge” an amount of money.

There are myriad requirements to obtain a permit and conduct a “Commercial Outdoor Event”.

This ordinance gives the sheriff discretionary powers over the permitting and enforcement in 10 different clauses. This fact alone ought to give pause to any Constitutionalist.

This ordinance is essentially divided into two parts — events requiring a permit, and events which are exempt.

This is where the logic of this ordinance escapes me.

Those who don’t need a permit for their Outdoor Event … also will have a several new rules to contend with under the section G-V 2.5 titled “Outdoor Events For Which No Permit is Required.” One of those rules is no overnight camping at your own home, should that be where your Outdoor Event takes place.

Let’s say you have an outdoor barbecue with the family. Even if there had been no money collected, but you had a tent for the grandkids to sleep in … you could get a $1,000 fine for violating the terms under “Outdoor Events For Which No Permit is Required” see Sec. G-V-2.5-A- 2.

During the meeting Chairman Nate Beason, pretending to be living in the unincorporated county, asked county counsel about having a wedding in his own backyard that he got people to “chip in for.” Would this ordinance apply to that hypothetical example? County counsel, as well as the County Sheriff Keith Royal, assured Mr. Beason that the ordinance didn’t cover his backyard wedding.

I contend otherwise.

If one reads the ordinance, one would find that:

First, there is no distinction nor definition indicated between “charging,” “donating,” “contributing,” “collecting” or “chipping in” an amount of money. The word “charge’ is pivotal in defining a “Commercial” Outdoor Event.

The sheriff could interpret a “charge” has occurred with the “collection” of money, at his discretion.

Second, the definition of an Outdoor Event is “any outdoor gathering.” I think that means “any outdoor gathering.” I’m pretty sure a wedding in Mr. Beason’s backyard qualifies, as do my family barbecues.

Thirdly, since Sec. G-V 2.5 applies to “Outdoor Events For Which No Permit is Required,” all outdoor events exempted from a permit are regulated — we all have been roped into this ordinance by definition. Both permitted and unpermitted outdoor events will be regulated. It seems that means all outdoor events taking place in the county’s unincorporated areas would then be regulated under this ordinance.

I hope you followed that logic. It gave me a headache.

Laws should be written with clear language and objective enforcement criteria. As a free people, we should never allow laws to be created which rely on the benevolence of the government to enforce them even-handedly. I have no doubts about the integrity, diligence and intent of our elected officials — and I applaud their conscientious work on this ordinance — but even good individuals with the best intentions can make serious mistakes.

People with religious or minority status should pay attention and investigate the claims I’ve made. The potential for abridging our First Amendment rights sometime in the future, I believe, is especially great, due to the discretionary and confusing wording of this all-encompassing ordinance.

Keith Royal will not always be in office. What kind of discretion would his successor exercise in the enforcement of this ordinance?

Supervisor Ed Scofield, before he voted “no,” said something to the effect of, “When we started this thing we were talking about events with hundreds of people … this thing has gone beyond that.”

It certainly has.

Instead of relying on the benevolence of the county sheriff in perpetuity, I would rather have a well-crafted, narrow and objectively enforceable ordinance, one which leaves my family barbecues out of it.

Doug Coursey lives in Grass Valley.

This ordinance gives the sheriff discretionary powers over the permitting and enforcement in 10 different clauses. This fact alone ought to give pause to any Constitutionalist.


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The Union Updated Aug 24, 2014 10:37PM Published Aug 24, 2014 10:37PM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.