Burning Man organizers sue over new local rules
Published: Friday, August 17, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 2:09 p.m.
RENO, Nev. — Organizers of the Burning Man arts festival have filed a federal lawsuit against local officials for imposing an ordinance that could require participants to wear clothing and otherwise tone things down a bit at the event dedicated to radical self-expression.
There's always plenty of nudity at Burning Man, held annually in the northern Nevada desert. Starting in 2013, the local festival ordinance will enable sheriff's deputies to regulate activities they consider to be "obscene, indecent, vulgar, or lewd."
The ordinance also could prohibit children from attending.
Burning Man organizer Black Rock City LLC filed suit in U.S. District Court in Nevada on Thursday. The lawsuit alleges the festival ordinance, which never before has been applied to Burning Man, would bring significant new costs and restrictions to the event.
The rules will change the nature of Burning Man and it's not within the authority of Pershing County to do that, said Marian Goodell, a Black Rock City board member.
"I'm confident we can get through this and people will see us out in the Black Rock Desert in 2013. Northern Nevada is a perfect home for Burning Man," Goodell told the Reno Gazette-Journal (on.rgj.com/uuS9d).
The lawsuit names the Pershing County commission, District Attorney James Shirley and Sheriff Richard Machado as defendants. Pershing County officials declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Burning Man takes place over Labor Day weekend. This year's event is expected to draw around 60,000 people who will camp out and create a temporary city in the desert.
The festival features elaborate art installations, music, a gift-based economy free of advertising, and plenty of free-spirited people. Last year's Burning Man drew a record 53,000.
Such crowds make it one of northern Nevada's main annual attractions. Burning Man draws an estimated $15 million in economic activity to the region.
The festival has taken place in the Black Rock Desert since 1991 and has operated under a federal permit issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Attorneys for Burning Man said the local ordinance conflicts with the BLM permit.
The ordinance goes into effect in October, meaning it won't affect this year's event.
Over the years, Black Rock City has worked with Pershing County and the BLM to defray the additional costs of law enforcement to patrol Burning Man. County officials recently acted to dissolve their past agreements with Black Rock City.
Meanwhile, commissioners have agreed to charge Black Rock City $400,000 for law enforcement for this year's event. Last year, the charge was $154,000.
The increase will boost law enforcement from 26 officers last year to 44 this year.
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com
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