Free speech signs back at Port Townsend’s Pope Marine Park park
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Free-speech advocate Richard Olson was back in his spot in Pope Marine Park on Thursday after an absence of 21/2 weeks. He is due to appear in Jefferson County District Court on May 28 to face code-violation charges. — Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — After a 2˝-week absence, a free speech activist was back in his regular spot in Pope Marine Park on Thursday.

Richard Erik Olson, who goes by the name Arhata Osho, has openly defied the city’s new sign code since it became effective March 18.

The code requires Olson or any other advocate to keep displays within the limits of 5 feet wide, 3 feet deep and 3 feet high.

That is considerably smaller than the 80-foot-long configurations Olson has displayed in this spot for two years.

Olson, 67, has said the new ordinance is directed only at him and restricts his free speech, while city officials say the law is necessary to protect the free speech of others and provide a clear right of way through the downtown area.

His signs — which bear such messages as “Use your citizen’s right of free speech” and “All religions are myths” — are intended to provoke discussion, Olson said.

After a few hours displaying his signs Thursday, Olson said six people greeted him favorably, while one was “nasty.”

Olson is scheduled for a court hearing to face misdemeanor charges of code violation at 9 a.m. May 28 in Jefferson County District Court, 1820 Jefferson St.

He was cited with a $100 ticket March 27 for not complying with the sign code. The ticket did not require a court appearance.

He continued to display his signs and was given two additional citations March 30 and 31. That elevated the infraction to a misdemeanor charge and compelled a court appearance.

Olson’s signs were stolen the night of April 6 from an unsecured location in Port Hudson where they were stored.

They have not yet been recovered, something that Olson calls “suspicious.”

Recently, Olson has not been in his customary spot across from City Hall because he moved out of a home he had occupied for more than two years.

Olson said the owners of the house at 4910 Landes St. had evicted him because of the sign controversy.

This was not the case, according to Chris Ota, who manages the property for Windermere.

“He was not evicted,” Ota said. “He was not a tenant, and his name was not on the lease.”

Olson said the tenant of record was allowing him to live in the house.

Olson attended his last hearing April 13, acting as his own attorney.

He is now represented by public defender Bret Roberts.

Olson and Roberts are scheduled to meet next week, but Olson is seeking connection with a more “high-powered” attorney, he said.

If he does not prevail in court, he plans to appeal.

His regular spot is near the end point of the Port Townsend Rhododendron Festival Grand Parade, which will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Olson has not decided whether he will move aside then to accommodate parade spectators.

“I’d like to stay. I was here last year, but I may decide to move,” he said.

“I’m Mr. Flexible, but there is a point where I am not flexible: when they try to take my rights away.

“This is happening now, and happening so fast that the government could collapse anytime.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 15. 2014 7:02PM
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