That space between the old City Hall and the new City Hall buildings downtown is called Sa’Cumn’e Plaza. Did you know that?

Bites didn’t, until reading the proposed new rule making it illegal to hold protests and vigils and press conferences there without a special permit.

Under the current democratic regime, people participate in all sorts of First Amendment activities at City Hall all the time, mostly without incident. That’ll change under the proposed new rules, due to heard by the Sacramento City Council’s Law and Legislation Committee on July 24.

In a nutshell: no permit, no right to peaceably assemble. And if you don’t have your application in to the city manager at least three days ahead of time, no permit.

So if you want to hold a spontaneous event to protest a police shooting (God forbid), or a city council vote to subsidize a sports arena (ditto), forget it, that’s going to be illegal.

The permits will cost money, of course—free speech isn’t free—though the fees have yet to be determined. And anyone holding an event will have to be able to prove they are insured for that event.

If you do get manage a permit, you’ll only be able to hold your event between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. If you wanted have your event after work—you know, so people will come—forget it. That’s illegal, too.

It should go without saying that there are no bullhorns, no amplification of any kind, no cowbells or other noise makers allowed without a permit. Also: no balloons, commie.

The new rules would also prohibit a whole spectrum of vague but potentially undesirable behavior, such as “any conduct that unreasonably disrupts city business” or “use any water feature, statue, sculpture, architectural or design feature in a manner inconsistent with its intended use.”

The nasty little authoritarian cherry on top is that the ordinance declares most of City Hall a “non-public forum.”

“City Hall is intended to be a place of business,” explained city spokeswoman Linda Tucker. Gatherings, she said, “can be disturbing when we’re trying to work.” So, shush.

Bites asked Tucker to be a little more specific. What particular disturbances are cropping up?

“Syringes,” she replied. “Litter.” Also, “harassment of passersby,” “washing clothes in the public fountain” and, certainly not least, “feces.”

Wait a second. All that stuff is already illegal. Everybody knows you can’t just leave your syringes and feces lying around after your press conference.

Of course, everybody assumes the ordinance is directed at Occupy Sacramento and/or homeless activists camped out on the grass in front of City Hall.

Tucker assured Bites it is not. Which is good, because that would be ridiculously ham-handed. Right?

“Sounds like the new proposed rules are a solution in search of a problem,” said Craig Powell, president of Eye on Sacramento, a taxpayer group that focuses on issues of government waste and fiscal restraint. His group has had many events in the plaza, without permits and without problems.

“There are already ample laws on the books that would curtail the occasional excesses of the Occupy folks,” he said. “The city just needs to enforce them.”

Now, Bites doesn’t want to give the impression that these new rules will entirely curtail free speech at City Hall.

The permit requirements only apply to gatherings of people. So they wouldn’t prevent any lone malcontent from standing in the middle of Sa’Cumn’e Plaza and muttering, “This is what democracy looks like,” to himself.

“You would still be able to do that as a one-person protest,” Tucker explained.

Just as long as you don’t bring a balloon.