Burning Man Sues Pershing County, Claims County Festival Ordinance Violates First Amendment

Burning Man (see my 2004 book about its history), a festival of art and community held on federal land operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) but physically within Nevada's Pershing County, has filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Nevada against Pershing County. The suit pushes back on some fresh demands for cash payouts from that county.

The root of the complaint, as I read it, is that Burning Man is questioning the county's right to impose certain extra requirements and fees on the event not contained in its agreement with the federal BLM (that agreement already includes paying the county for all its law enforcement costs at the event, which Burning Man does, and which amounted to $175,000 to Pershing last year. Many other Nevada state and local agencies also get payouts).

Burning Man has also made in the past agreements with Pershing, in lieu of the application of its "Festival ordinance" to Burning Man, to pay another $62,000 to the county yearly, $12,000 of which goes to local nonprofits serving county residents. Since 2005, under similar agreements, Burning Man has paid a total of $395,600, $108,600 of that to local nonprofits, according to the suit.

Last November, the suit claims, the county tried to amend its Festival Ordinance to apply to Burning Man in ways the event objected to. From the suit:

The proposed amendment would have made the ordinance applicable to Burning Man and severely restrict the content of the Burning Man Event.  Specifically, the proposal would have imposed hundreds of thousands of dollars of new fees on BRC [the LLC that runs Burning Man], subjected Burning Man to local law enforcement inconsistent with the terms of the BLM Permit, and otherwise make the conduct of the Burning Man Event contingent upon and subject to County and State laws and policies that could conflict, and in fact did conflict, with the terms of the 2012 BLM Permit....Notably, the proposed amendment would also have banned minors from the Burning Man Event.  

The suit also details an amazing example of local justice, in which a petition was filed against Pershing County earlier this year in Nevada state court trying to force it to apply the damaging festival ordinance rules to Burning Man. Burning Man was not informed of the petition.

The petition was approved--strangely, before it was even formally filed--by a Judge, Richard Wagner, who has earlier spoken out in public about his own desire to squash Burning Man. The county gave in to the petition, and as a result in May demanded Burning Man comply with its festival ordinance in the future.  This suit is claiming such application of the county ordinance to Burning Man is illegimate, not only for interfering with its pre-existing agreement with the federal BLM, but also for violating the First Amendment. From the suit:

The Festival Laws are directed towards speech and expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment.  They lack sufficient standards to guide the exercise of discretion by County licensing officials and therefore are facially void under the First Amendment.....

The imposition of arbitrary and excessive fees and charges on BRC in connection with the Burning Man Event is pretextual, content-based, and impermissibly restricts constitutionally protected speech and conduct.  If allowed to continue, these fees and charges would have the effect of substantially reducing the funds available to BRC for the direct funding of artistic and other expressive conduct at subsequent Events and the sponsorship of future events, resulting in the restriction of speech and other conduct protected by the First Amendment.

Burning Man's press release on the suit. Excerpt:

In early 2011, the county insisted that BRC pay a significantly higher fee by entering into a new agreement. BRC complied with this request in order to maintain good relations with the county. But then in May of this year, the county breached this agreement with BRC and imposed a much higher fee of $400,000.

This fee is $280,000 more than the county incurred in event-related expenses for the 2011 event and much more than the estimated $180,000 law enforcement cost for the event in 2012 cited by a representative from the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office. County commissioners said the 2013 fee would be $600,000 to $800,000 and could exceed $1 million in the future.

“These fees are arbitrary and capricious,” Harvey said. “It is wrong for the county to bully us in an attempt to balance its books. We are being treated like a piggy bank. We do not think that this government or any government has the right to do this.”

The release also stresses the economic benefit brought to Nevada by the 50,000 or so people the event attracts to the area. None of this affects the 2012 event, which starts On August 26.

I wrote about the early days of Burning Man's relationship with government authorities in Reason back in the year 2000. I blogged back in May on the event's recent attempts to lobby the federal government.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Pershing County||

    I just want to wet my beak a little.

  • Almanian's Evil Twin||

    "Hey, ya can't blame a jackbooted thug fer tryin'!"

  • Restoras||

    Maybe they should move the festival elsewhere? And take there money with them?

  • RBS||

    Yeah, I'm sure some other wasteland county would be more than happy to host Burning Man.

  • ||

    Problem is there really aren't that many locations as ideally suited to doing what burning man does.

    It's an event that has evolved around this perfectly flat, huge, desert location where there are no obstacles and no flammable vegetation within range.

    So, you can DO things like ride your bike around on acid in the dark, or set of giant explosions, without having to worry about riding into a ditch or starting a wildfire.

    Only a large dry lakebed can possibly work.

    And, moreover, while there are other such lakebeds, they aren't necessarily on public land, or in a location where it's going to be easy to get a permit, or within driving distance of San Francisco.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    For those who have been to music "festivals", are the arts crafts sections really that interesting or do you resent having to spend time away from the concert pavilion?

  • Delroy||

    If Doherty wrote a book about Burning Man, does that mean that at one time he was walking around the desert wearing a loincloth and bodypaint?

  • Joe R.||

    "At one time" implies that at some point he stopped.

  • Caleb Turberville||

    Doherty's trilogy is complete. He saw a Ron Paul presidency that night 10 years ago, and it's close to becoming a reality.

  • Restoras||

    Until he provides proof to the contrary, I accept this as truth.

  • juris imprudent||

    Actually the truly demented form of being semi-naked at Burning Man is known as shirt-cocking.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Leave it to the feds to use expensive issue ammo for training. At least use FMJs.

    http://www.foxnews.com/politic.....purchases/

  • ||

    no no no no no

    NO NO NO NO NO

    ok, this is one issue i have studied extensively and it's also the perfect example of the kind of thing where you think you know what you are talking about, but you are 100% wrong.

    study the newhall shooting. at a minimum

    it is now axiomatic that you should use the exact same ammo in training that you will use on the street. it is sad that we had to learn this lesson the hard way, but i can't think of any firearms training issue where i am more confident in a practice than this

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newhall_Massacre

    that's just the tip of the iceberg

    the ignorati may (attempt ) to ridicule me on training issue, but this is deadly serious stuff and on this topic i know my stuff

    ANY agency that does not train with their duty ammo is doing their officers a grave injustice and in this day and age, that's an unconscionable error in training protocol.

    good discussion of the incident here

    http://smith-wessonforum.com/l.....nutes.html

    in brief, this is the perfect example of what seems so clearcut to you, such an example of govt. waste ... but it is not, and this is an area where my training and experience (and extensive research) means i have very STRONG beliefs about this.

  • Randian||

    but it is not, and this is an area where my training and experience (and extensive research) means i have very STRONG beliefs about this.

    god you do go on.

  • ||

    it's just a perfect example of where an ivory tower (no experience in deadly force training or study of how actual shootings go down) can lead one to a "common sense" conclusion that is just completely wrong

    this is not controversial . it's probably one of the most discussed UOF issues there are, and it's been studied for decades.

    you will get all sorts of disagreement on a lot of issues in regards to police firearms in regards to caliber, training issues, etc. etc. but on the issue of ammo, it is simply axiomatic and supported by very strong argumentation, that agencies should train with their duty ammo, and that they do their officers a grave injustice if they don't

    it's just so sad, because i am the first to admit i am ignorant as shit on LOTS of stuff (macroeconomics for example), but there are a few things i know my shit, and this is one of them. and people can ridicule officer safety etc. but this is important shit for those of us that want to go home without bullet holes in us

  • Randian||

    oh really? Tell me more.

  • ||

    again, thank you for continually reinforcing my point

  • Randian||

    yes, dunphy, just by coincidence, this happens to be the one subject, like every other subject that comes up on these boards, where you are an expert.

    shouldn't you be training for the 2016 Olympics or winning the WBO title?

  • ||

    wow . again, thanks for proving my point about the psychological disturbances of the cop haters

    among other things, i am the first to admit i am NOT a firearms expert, and that i am ignorant on tons of stuff

    i come here, and other sites to learn, to share information, and in many cases, to take that info i learn, recognize i was wrongt, and change my viewpoint based on data and intellgent argumentation

    but god forbid, you could simply concede that my point is valid and do so without childish personal attacks.

    again, the argument that i think i am na expert on most stuff is laughable

    i concede all the time, i have NO fucking idea on the global warming debate, and my knowledge of macro economics is very low

    again, you see what oyu want to see. you want to argue so you lie (and honestly i think you may even believe this shit) about what i say and what i believe.

    again, i am ignorant on a lot of topics. unlike the bigots, i can recognize when somebody actually knows something about a topic and learn from them.

    god knows at volokh.com i have learned tons from people who know way more than me about various aspects of law, and i also like learning from liberals , progressive, even communist. different viewpoints are good

  • ||

    but again, thanks for confirming that the last thing people like you can do (fragile ego etc.) is simply acknowledge that god forbid a dumb flatfoot cop taught you something or god forbid you ever admit you were wrong, if that occasion comes up

    i'm wrong sometimes. i concede that. i know very little about quite a lot.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    LOL. come on. just let him have this one. Every time a cop shoots a dog, you can still give him a hard time.

    But I am hereby accepting his contention, on behalf of this whole chatroom, that he is right about best practices of ammo usage in police training.

  • ||

    that's a fair cop, mate.

    dig it!

  • AlmightyJB||

    1) I've shot extensively for years and am willing to bet I know as much if not more about the subject as you. I would agree that you should train SOME using issue ammo as I train SOME using my selected home defense ammos. First and foremost you have to make sure it shoots reliably in your gun and then of course you have to know how it shoots. That being said I probably shoot less expensive ammo 10 to one over home defense ammo and would do so even of the the taxpayers were flipping the bill because training extensively with hollow points is a ridiculas waste of money in is unjustifiable to me.

  • AlmightyJB||

    2) The cop shoots dog meme has been around here forever and when it happens, it's always going to get posted. So get your panties out of bunch and go have a beer,

  • ||

    i have no problem with the dog meme, any more than somalia

    that being said, i nearly had my arm torn out of its socket by a dog that attacked me and i STILL would probably rather suffer grievous injury than shoot a dog.

    i don't like violence, and certainly not against a creature that is merely trying to protect its owner.

    unlike some of the skells i deal with , dogs are innocent.

    as for the ammo issue, i'll just say you are wrong. there 's a lot more to the issue than just the make of the ammo (like the thing about the spent brass. it really goes a long way for those willing to consider it, in understanding my points about police accountability, training practices, etc. and how important they are so that outcomes get better AND police are held accountable)

    i wouldnt be surprised even if CALEA jumped in with the ammo issue

    that aside, this whole thing started with your implication that the feds were doing something wrong, and i assume wasteful? by using "expensive ammo" for training, and i am saying that it's crystal clear to me (and i could cite ayoob etc. as well) that this is life and death shit, and we should be using the same ammo we carry, to train with. and we do. and we'd be filing a union grievance !! :) if they tried to make us use any other ammo

    fortunately, i have yet to hear about any officer i have trained picking up spent brass (or magazines) during a shooting, so i must be doing something right!

  • AlmightyJB||

    Didn't catch the suspect but at least they got to shoot a dog.

    http://www.10tv.com/content/st.....chase.html

  • ||

    oh, and almighty JB note also (again with the recurring theme of training as relates to LEO, accountability, etc.)...

    in the newhall shooting, IN THE MIDDLE OF A DEADLY SHOOTOUT, one of the officers actually picked up his EXPENDED brass in his hand

    think about that.

    the relevance here in regards to psychology, training practices etc. it's all there in the newhall shooting. as cops train, so shall they perform.

    and officer safety may be a joke to many here, but it's deadly serious. again, read my previous post. any agency that doesn't train with their duty ammo imo is completely fucked up in that regard.

  • Robert||

    Damn, for a few secs. there I took the headline literally.

  • AlmightyJB||

    It's become sentient:)

  • Robert||

    I wasn't thinking of an "it".

  • Robert||

    For those still needing a xltion, I thought it meant a person on fire filed suit.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    and officer safety may be a joke to many here

    Not joke.

    Tragedy.

  • ||

    the tragedy is the widespread ignorance about proper officer safety tactics here, etc.

    it's just the abject ignorance that gets to me.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    The tragedy is that you and your baboon army of occupation are happily willing to kill "civilians" without number in order to minimize the risk to yourselves. Or your delicate little egos.

  • ||

    the tragedy is that you actually believe that rubbish. i, personally havce, and i have seen others as well, sacrifice their safety and./or get injured specifically in situations where they WOULD be justified in shooting somebody but chose not to.

    and of course NONE of those incident would make the pages of reason.com

    i've seen three incidents (i was the tackler in one) in the last 5 yrs personally, where a dangerous person wielding a knife was tackled when a shoot would be justified . for example

    clearly, you aren't interested in rational discourse as evidenced by your "baboon army" comment.

    what it IS about is about proper balancing

    for example.

    i will (and have) reached into a car to turn off the engine (stolen car and dui driver) at risk to myself since it SAVES society the risk of my having to pursue the vehicle if/when it takes off.

    however...

  • ||

    there have been cases where drivers have taken off once the officer did so and dragged him and the officer had to shoot the person
    . and of course the ignorati will wank about how the officer MURDERED that poor "motorist"

    :l

    officer safety means taking reasonable means

    it means when i stop an armed robbery supsect, i do so at gunpoint (as i was stopped when i was an armed robbery suspect)

    that's a fair tradeoff vs. taking a shoplifter down at gunpoint, which would be excessive forced and not at all fair

    we will continue to use intelligent officer safety that (usually) properly balances risk and behavior and often is safer for the general public bystanders as well

    and ivory tower critics like you, who will never face a violent felon intent on killing them, will continue to offer bigoted "baboon" comments. but we will continue to act intelligently and often heroically despite your protestations

    and you can continue your wanking

  • The Late P Brooks||

    we will continue to act intelligently and often heroically despite your protestations

    Be careful, those shiny brass buttons are going to go all over the place with you puffing your big hairy chest that way.

    By the way, I'm still waiting for a cogent, consistently applied definition of "reasonable suspicion".

    Until then, your virtuous huffing and puffing about NYPD's stop-and-frisk doesn't really carry much weight. One man's "reasonable" suspicion is another man's "Fuck you, that's why".

  • ||

    reasonable suspicion was defined in the case terry v. ohio, which i've already cited, to include the dissent and concurrences.

    feel free to look it up.

    if you are implying that the standard is too loose, that's your opinion.

    and yet again, you demonstrate the bigot's penchant for trying to find something to disagree with, even when we agree

    stipulated we both agree that NYPD stop and frisk standard routinely violates terry v. ohio

    as for what constitutes REASONABLE SUSPICION? are you unable to read case law? i realize that, as is WAY too often the case here, youc clearly haven't RESEARCHED terry v. ohio (terry stop) case law, you just ASSUME that "one man's reasonable suspicion is another man's ..."

    courts make decisions on whether a terry stop was justified probably every single day in the US.

    heck, i've been to at least two dozen 3.5 and 3.6 hearings involving just MY terry stops

    what exactly is your question about what is or isn't reasonable suspicion? if you don't KNOW (but that hasn't stopped you from forming an opinion... how shocking) try some RESEARCH

    use the google
    contrary to common understanding, and as explained by volokh et al, PC does not necessarily need to reach a 50%+ standard (a common misperception).

  • ||

    here is a place to start

    http://www.legalupdateonline.com/4th/59

    i' ve had my RS upheld and i've had my RS rejected. ultimately, like ALL questions of law, it is up to a judge, up to the SCOTUS to determine if RS existed on a stop or not.

    RS is a totality of the circs type thing and is highly dependent on an officer's knowledge/experience, which must fit into the "reasonable "standard.

    i am not virtuously huffing and puffing. i know it pains you to recognize this, but i care deeply about civil rights and about constitutional protections of same. and i am happy to live in a state that recognizes MUCH broader protections than the (imo insufficient) federal standard under the 4th

  • gulo gulo||

    So you're saying you don't have what he asked for.

  • ||

    i am not saying that.i am saying the definition of RS is within the link i provided, or the terry v ohio case, which i have already cited.

    he is free to read either.

    and of course, an intelligent informed person would A;lready know this shit BEFORE forming an opinion.

  • gulo gulo||

    i am saying the definition of RS is within the link i provided,

    That's not what he asked you for.

    So you just admitted you don't have what he asked you for.

  • ||

    btw, here is a VERY good case that asks the question "was there RS" and answers: FUCK YEA!

    United States v. Fernandez-Castillo

    http://openjurist.org/324/f3d/.....z-castillo

  • juris imprudent||

    Apparently I'm going to get to meet Doherty out at Burning Man this year! Yay Radio Electra!

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