“I Will Break Your Fucking Camera” by Troy Holden

A couple of days ago, Stuart and I decided to walk through the Financial District for lunch.

I had heard that the security guards at 555 California were unappreciative of photography. I mentioned this to Stuart and we agreed that these types of rules were silly and served no real purpose.

So we decided to check it out and within a few moments several security guards greeted us with wagging fingers and walkie-talkies.

No photography, they stated clearly. Why, we responded. Safety, they said.

I decided to challenge this statement and the older of the bunch (left) asked me if I wanted to be punched in the face. No, I replied, I have to go back to work and a black eye would make things awkward for me. He then asked me how I would feel if he broke my camera. I told him I would be bummed, but that I needed an upgrade and if he touched me or my camera I would seek monetary legal action to the extent of a brand new Canon 5D Mark II.

Shortly after, my internal voice of reason set in and I decided to leave. The conversation was going no where and a definition of “safety” was unable to be produced.

I wonder what the fear is all about? There are currently 1096 images of 555 California on Flickr, and not one of them indicates a compromise of security. It just doesn’t make any sense.

UPDATE: I received an email from Fatima Vegas who works on the security team for Vornado Reality, who manages the property:

“Thank you for your e-mail. I just received information from the incident within the past hour. I am investigating the matter. This is not typical of our security team at 555 California St. If our investigation results in the officer behaving in an unprofessional manner, he will be disciplined accordingly. We do not tolerate that sort of behavior from any of our service providers.”

UPDATE #2: I was put in touch with the ACLU via my friend Thomas Hawk yesterday afternoon. Each one clarified a couple of things about “Private Property” such as the plaza in front of this building:

The plaza where the photography was taking place in was a *public* area on private property. These areas are treated differently than other a citizen’s private property (such as your home). In order to prevent a public easement of the property and losing their private property distinction, property owners will install little plaques denoting the area as giving the public a right to pass under California Civil Code 1009 typically. While this notification preserves their ultimate property right, it also reduces the control that they have over that area.

Specifically, the code states: “After taking any of the actions set forth in paragraph (1), (2), or (3), and during the time such action is effective, the owner shall not prevent any public use which is appropriate under the permission granted pursuant to such paragraphs by physical obstruction, notice, or otherwise.” Restricting photography from the plaza in front of 555 California violates the public use clause in California Civil Code 1009.

In any event, even if this is not a Privately Owned Public Space, nothing in California law makes it a crime for a person to be on non-residential property that is open to the public unless one is interfering with the owner’s business activities, and taking a photo is not.

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