Pending Parks Legislation Would Impact Occupy Atlanta

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(APN) ATLANTA — Three proposed city ordinances, currently up for consideration this Tuesday, March 13, 2012, at the Community Development/Human Resources (CD/HR) Committee, would add new restrictions to what citizens can do in public parks.

Some of the legislation seems targeted at prohibited camping during the day by Occupy Atlanta.

Occupy Atlanta previously held a twenty-four hour per day occupation at downtown Atlanta’s Woodruff Park.  However, after Mayor Kasim Reed revoked his Executive Order allowing them to stay, dozens of OA protesters were arrested.

Since then, OA has limited its occupation of Woodruff Park to daytime hours only, as is currently permitted by City code.  This, among other things, seems to be what the City wishes to stop.

Ordinance 12-O-0359, introduced by Council Members CT Martin (District 10) and Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large), would amend Code of Ordinances Chapter 110-59 relating to Park Rules.

In the legislation’s preamble, it provides the following justifications: “WHEREAS, there are certain activities occurring in Parks that are damaging Park turf, and other activities that are creating health and safety risks, and the activities are not currently prohibited by City law; and…”

“WHEREAS, the City wishes to update the Park Rules in order to enhance the welfare of Park infrastructure, and the general safety, health, and welfare of Park users,” the legislation states.

The ordinance adds several items to its list of prohibited activities in the park.

For example, under the proposed ordinance, it would be illegal to “Lay any of the following items on any permeable surface in a Park: plywood, a non-permeable tarp, or any other item used as a ground covering that is made of a material that does not allow water to penetrate to the ground below.”

“Chairs made of non-permeable material, coolers, and other items not utilized as ground covers do not violate this subsection,” the ordinance states.

In addition, the ordinance states that any “Tents… any tent or canopy erected in a Park must meet the following criteria:”

“(1) The structure may have no more than two opaque sides.  The non-opaque sides must remain visibly unobstructed.  Side sides may be made of netting or mesh provided that said netting or mesh does not materially impede visibility into the structure from the outside…”

“(2) The structure may not have a floor…”

“(3) Tents must have a distance between them of no less than twelve feet.”

“(4) The following items may not be located inside of any tent or canopy absent all required permits and licenses… (A) Generators, heaters, and/or stoves powered by gasoline, kerosene, propane, or other flammable substance; (B) Flammable gasses, liquids, or accelerants of any kind, including but not limited to, gasoline, propane, and kerosene; (C) A flame/flames from any source, whether open or enclosed, including but not limited to, candles, lanterns, and torches.”

The ordinance would also prohibit public urination, defecation, and spitting in public parks; would ban use of water fountains for bathing; and would ban the storage of personal property.

“There’s absolutely no question that they’re responding to Occupy,” Tim Franzen, a spokesperson with OA, told Atlanta Progressive News.

“It’s clear to me – people could be arrested for multiple ordinances, not just the curfew.  Even the daytime occupation of the park would be against the law,” Franzen said.

Franzen noted the types of tents described in the ordinance–with no bottoms and with two transparent sides, “basically don’t exist.”

APN asked Franzen whether the City of Atlanta had reasonable concerns about the grass and whether OA has observed grass getting torn up and shriveled up.

“What’s getting torn up and shriveled up is our ability to survive and thrive.  They’re cracking down and making it more different for folks to create the change we need in this country,” Franzen said.

“The reason they [activists] are camping in the park is because our political system is so broken.  It’s an assault of social justice, on dissent, on freedom, democracy.  What’s being destroyed here–the concern most people in the country have right now–is not about destroying the grass in the park.  We have an overabundance of grass in this country.  We need jobs, we need a political system where we can have a voice,” Franzen said.

For the last week and a half, the entirety of Woodruff Park has been surrounded with a several foot high fence.

The CD/HR Cmte will consider the legislation at the upcoming Committee Meeting on Tuesday, March 12, at 12:30pm.

(END/2012)

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