November 7th, 2011 4:02 pm | Hannah Hoffman News | Posted In: City Hall, Activism, Housing, Politics

Fish Says It's Time to End the Occupation of Lownsdale and Chapman Squares

Ends City Parks Bureau's support for Occupy Portland camp

390815_10100173565889476_11519783_45900727_585560875_nCity officials say Occupy Portland campers have sawed limbs from elms in their downtown camp.

City Commissioner Nick Fish has pulled his Parks and Recreation employees out of the Occupy Portland camp out of concern for their safety, leaving the Occupiers with no public toilets, no trash pickup and no park security.

Fish tells WW the damage to Chapman and Lownsdale squares has gone too far, and city employees have found that Occupy campers have cut down branches from the historic elms. 

But Fish says he is most concerned about the safety of parks bureau employees.

“I don’t want to put my employees in harm’s way,” Fish said. “In my view we’ve sort of reached a tipping point.”

Mayor Sam Adams has controlled the city’s relationship with the protesters, who have been camping in Chapman and Lownsdale squares since Oct. 6. Fish says it’s time for them to leave.

Fish’s policy director, Jim Blackwood, said the Lownsdale Square bathroom will be closed Tuesday, but Fish pulled the parks employees from the camp last week after hearing repeated reports of drugs and violence in the protest camp from the Portland Police Bureau.

He said relations between the campers and the parks department have deteriorated.

For example, Blackwood said, the protesters originally promised to care of the trees, keeping tarps and tents off their roots. But last week parks employees spotted trees with branches cut off.

And it got worse: Blackwood said cleaning crews have been repeatedly threatened and intimidated when they tried to clean the two park bathrooms.

Blackwood said Fish made the call to remove parks workers and Adams’ office wasn’t involved. He said it wasn’t part of a larger strategy to remove campers from the park.

Fish thinks there should be a more coherent plan.

He says the Occupy Portland camp raises concerns about health and safety not just for his employees but for the campers too. Campers are breaking sanitation and fire codes, he said, and the chronically homeless and mentally ill can’t receive services in the camp.

Fish said he supports the movement’s message and right to assemble but he thinks the situation has deteriorated into a dangerous, complicated mess.

He commended Adams and Police Chief Mike Reese for keeping the city’s relationship with the camp peaceful.

“The mayor has taken the lead and I’m just a commissioner,” he said, “but we should be looking for an end game with a peaceful conclusion."

Adams issued the following letter to Occupy Portland Monday evening after Fish made his comments:

An open letter from Mayor Sam Adams to the Occupy Portland encampment
To the Occupy Portland encampment:
I know that you agree that the growing number of arrests and reports of illicit drug and alcohol use, violent behavior and other criminal conduct must be immediately addressed. I understand that similar challenges have arisen at other Occupy encampments. Uniquely, I appreciate that Occupy Portland, via the website, is one of the few encampments to clearly note these challenges.
Thanks you for meeting with representatives of the police bureau, my staff, non-profit service providers, and me to discuss concerns and potential solutions face-to-face.
The purpose of this open letter is to underscore to all Occupy Portland supporters the urgency of dealing with these issues. The way things are operating now is not sustainable.
I know there is a nationwide Occupy process for working through those things, which I want to give some time to work. But we cannot wait long.
It is imperative that solving these serious problems be a priority for Occupy Portland, before a serious injury or death occurs. I do not want to see something like the following incidents occur in Portland, and I’m sure you do not, either:
In Vancouver, B.C., there has been a death in camp that is a  suspected drug overdose; and,
In Washington D.C., protesters have reportedly been the victims of two hit-and-run incidents.
I have said from the beginning that I believe the Occupy movement would have to evolve in order to realize its full potential. Based on my conversations with mayors around the country, I know that Portland is not unique in facing these real issues around camps. But I hope we are unique in our solutions. In Bend, Oregon, Occupy participants have closed their camp, but continue to meet regularly. I believe Occupy Portland can lead the nation in figuring out what the next phase of the Occupy Movement looks like.
We've got work to do—and by we, I mean everybody, including all Occupy supporters. I look forward to finding solutions in the coming days.
Sam Adams
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