Before the Lincoln High School prom last Saturday night, 16-year-old Sammi McCasland and seven of her friends -- a total of four couples -- decided to take photos with their smartphones at the Japanese Friendship Garden at Kelley Park.Having duly paid the $6 per vehicle parking fee, the Lincoln students walked toward the bridges and ponds of the friendship garden in search of the right spot for a memory. That's when a San Jose park ranger told them no.
"We get there, and she says, 'Do you guys have a permit?' '' remembered Sammi. "We said 'no.' She said, 'No, you can't take pictures.' ''
The Lincoln kids, part of a wave of promgoers descending on the garden, waited until the park ranger had gone and then took their shots without benefit of the $100 permit...
When I ran this episode past Steve Hammack, the deputy director of parks, recreation and neighborhood services, he said the city's policy was clear.
"We encourage photography in the park and only require a permit when conducted for the purposes of doing business,'' he wrote me by email.
"This situation as you outlined below does not require a permit. I am following up with staff to make sure we are not misrepresenting the requirements for obtaining a permit.''
And that's fair enough. San Francisco, for example, says that permits aren't needed unless the photographer is being paid -- a wedding videographer, for instance.
You can see the reasoning behind that: In a paid gig, the city's grounds are being used as a business backdrop.
I can't see that at all. Does San Jose require a permit to photograph City Hall? Should the National Park Service require a permit to photograph Half Dome, or Old Faithful, or the Lincoln Memorial? This is yet another example of a government that tries to milk every cent it can out of the people. Sometimes we call that tyranny.
I heard this on the radio this morning and a good point was made: when you seek a "permit", you are getting the government's "permission" to do something. In other words, the government has taken your rights and is selling them back to you. At that point, what exactly are your rights?
But let's continue with the story, which gets murkier:
Sometimes, perhaps too often, the law is an ass. This is why I choose to limit the power of government.Yet it may not be wholly fair to blame the park ranger here. When you look up the city's policies online (www.sanjoseca.gov) the rules appear ambiguous.Under the "Photo Permit'' section, the city says, "Photo permits are necessary for any type of photography or filming in all city of San Jose parks.''
But an FAQ for photo permits has this question: "Do I have to have a permit for photos if I'm just visiting the park and snapping a few pictures?'' The answer is "No.''So it appears that "snapping a few pictures,'' which is presumably what the promgoers were attempting, is not the same as the "any type of photography'' requiring a $100 permit from the city.