Guild Respone to NPS Proposed Rules Published 8/25/18
Saturday, October 13, 2018
Posted by: Jackie Frend
The Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, DC
P.O. Box 242, Washington, DC 20044-0242
October 5, 2018
National Park Service
National Capital Region
900 Ohio Drive, SW
Washington, DC 20024
Re: RIN: (1024-AE45)
The Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington, DC (here unto referred to as the Guild) thanks the National Park Service (NPS) for the opportunity to comment on the proposed rules published in the August 15, 2018 Federal Register. The notice, RIN 1024-AE45 outlines fourteen potential revisions to the regulations related to demonstrations and special events at certain units in the National Capital City Region. The Guild, established in 1985, is a 540-member organization representing tour guides licensed in the District, tour operators called Affiliates, and organizations called Friends that provide services for tours. Collectively, members of the Guild guide thousands of individuals yearly throughout the city, the national mall monuments as well as the White House. Guides not only share the stories of the people, history and events represented in the city, but our responsibility is to ensure the guests to Washington, DC navigate the city safely and efficiently. Consequently, while the proposed rules do not directly apply to the tourism community, the Guild offers the following comments on those points we believe are essential to establishing/maintaining practices that benefit both the tourist and those who are exercising their first amendment rights.
Firstly, please note that the Guild appreciates the work of the NPS staff and their stewardship of the 1000 acres of parkland within the District of Columbia, including the 14 units of the National Park System that encompass the National Mall, memorial parks, the areas surrounding the White House, and the 150 reservations, circles, fountains, squares of the city. We recognize that in managing to mitigate negative impacts to park resources, the NPS issues an average of 750 permits for demonstrations and 1,500 permits for special events within the NPS units subject of 36 CFR 7.96. These “first amendment” permits are in addition to the approximately 800 permits for commercial filming, reservations, and other events. The Guild recognizes the need to have uniform regulations when issuing permits, which the proposed rules address. Still, the Guild takes issue with some of the proposed changes and believes that management of first amendment special events might also be addressed through appropriate enforcement of the permit’s parameters. More specific comments are noted in the bullet points below.
1 – Remove several units from the applicability of 7.96. The Guild supports the removal of units like Manassas National Battlefield Park, Wolf Trap National Park, Prince William Forest, and portions of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park from applicability to special regulations in section 7.96. Allowing these units to issue their own permits seems appropriate given their management considerations would be different than those at the National Mall or other areas in the city.
2 - Revise the Definitions of Demonstrations and Special Events. The Guild supports establishing uniform accountability, yet has concerns with the change to the Special Events in 7.96 (g)(1) and the wording “which does not have an intent or propensity” to that of the current definition under demonstrations, to read “that is not reasonably likely to attract a crowd or onlookers.” More specifically, the special events language reads, “This term does not include casual park use by visitors or tourists that does not have the intent or propensity to attract a crowd or onlookers.” The Guild believes the word “intent” is actually the stronger definition, as it is less subjective than relying on someone’s interpretation of what is “not reasonably likely to attract a crowd or onlookers.” Again, although the proposed regulation change is not to impact tourists, there are instances where large groups of tourists arrive at a site at one time and as guides we could show that with the gathering of many individuals there is no “intent” to demonstrate as opposed to have to someone interpret what is “not likely to attract a crowd.”
In regards to the proposal to streamline definitions and use the definitions in sections 2.50 and 2.51 of CRF 36, the Guild believes the definition of Special events under CFR 7.96 (g)(ii) is actually more instructive as it includes the word “celebration, historical reenactment, parades, fairs, festivals and similar events. We ask the NPS to incorporate the definition that includes the most comprehensive list of activities.
NPS asks for ideas on how to distinguish between a demonstration and a special event. The Guild does not have a specific recommendation for distinguishing between the two when issuing a permit. We do, however, recommend that once permits are issued and event is happening that NPS and security staff are empowered to ask those performing special event at the memorials to see their permit, and to request a reasonable accommodation of place and sound levels in order to balance the first amendment rights of event participants/organizers and the many visitors to the memorials.
3 – Move the definition of “Structure” in 7.96. The Guild does not oppose moving the definition under Section 7.96(g)(ix)(A)(4) to the definitions under section 7.96. Similarly, we do not oppose moving to that same area the definitions under section 7.96(g)(5)(vi). The Guild, however, wants to clarify that related to first amendment permits and section 7.96(g)(5)(vi) and the prohibition of tents for sleeping that we recognize and honor the long-standing placement of the tent first established by William Thomas and Concepcion Picciotto. We cannot endorse any new regulations or regulatory changes that would be used to remove this long-standing symbol of exercising one’s First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and petition the government.
4 – Consider Changing the number of people that can take part in a demonstration without a permit at specific locations. The Guild does not have a position on this proposed rule change.
5- Require a permit for the erection of structures during a special event or demonstration regardless of the number of participants. As noted, demonstrations under 25 persons do not require a permit, except for Lafayette Park where speaker platforms require a permit and no structures on the White House sidewalk. Other places where permits are not required include Franklin Park up to 500 persons, McPherson Square up to 100 persons, and 1,000 persons in Rock Creek Park. The Guild does not oppose lowering the person limit when issuing permits for long-term structures like tent.
6-Require a fee for issuing a permit for First Amendment demonstrations and special events. Free speech under the First Amendment must be honored and protected. Guides share with guests to the city the many symbols of and memorials to those who fought for our liberties: for the right to speak, to petition the government, to peaceably assemble. Guides strive to invoke civics, the rights and opportunities to citizens for engagement in our society. No barriers should be implemented that would limit a group’s ability to apply for a permit to demonstrate or peaceably assemble.
7- Establish Permanent Security Zones at President’s Park where Public Access is Prohibited. This proposed change would make permanent the closures on South side of the White House and prohibit persons from accessing the sidewalk and fence that encloses the south lawn of the White House. What is unclear from the regulations is if this permanent closure applies to small groups of tourists. The Guild requests greater clarity on the intent of the Park Service regarding the access for the general public to the south fence, to the First Division Monument, and to the Sherman statue. In addition, if these areas are to be permanently restricted to the general (non-demonstrating public) how will the sidewalks and access areas be redesigned to accommodate bus-loads of tourists.
8- Establish additional restricted zones at memorials on the National Mall. The proposed regulations note the current restrictions at the Abraham Lincoln and the Thomas Jefferson memorials, and the desire to establish restricted zones at the World War II, Korean War Veterans, and the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorials. And the desire to expand the restricted area at the Washington Monument to account for the area around the Monument’s base to outside the circle of flags. The Guild asks that the NPS place in a more transparent location on their website the maps of where protests are restricted. There was a challenge in gaining maps to conduct a cross-reference the current maps in 36 CFR 7.93 with those in the August 15, 2018 Federal Register. A more transparent and self-evident link to the maps on the NPS permit website could be particularly helpful to those seeking a permit.
The Guild supports limiting demonstration activities to outside the circle of flags at the Washington Monument. The Guild supports modifying permit rules to ensure contemplation and reverence at memorials, yet also allow nearby access to groups to access public space for first amendment activities. Of concern, is that when special event permits are issued NPS or the permit holder provide signage to visitors to direct them to open walkways, to ensure easy and safe access to memorials and have space for gathering as a group to hear commentary.
9 – Modify regulations explaining how the NPS processes permit applications for demonstrations and special events. The notice identifies that NPS processed 4,658 permit applications, and that NPS proposes to waive the 48-hour application deadline and expand the response time from receipt of an application from a 24-hour response to a 3-day response. The Guild does not have a position on the timing of issuing permits. We ask, however, that NPS incorporate a procedure to make public on a weekly basis a list of all permits and the place, time and size of the demonstration. For example, a list of park road closures is published weekly. Such a list helps inform guides, and those leading large groups, of places to possibly avoid. This safety feature could be very useful in helping security forces while giving more room to the permitted group.
10- 14 – No response
Thank you again for the opportunity to comment on these proposed rules.
Co-Chair, Government and Tourism Committee
Co-Chair, Government and Tourism Committee