A Set-up for a Crackdown? Police, Corporations Drawing a Noose around OWS Protestors
October 8, 2011
CBS News & Capitol Magazine
A crackdown on Free Assembly may be coming as the corporate owners of the "public" park that has been serving as headquarters of the Occupy Wall Street movement are raising concerns about "sanitation." Meanwhile, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly had some strong words for "Occupy Wall Street" protesters Thursday, blaming participants for starting skirmishes which led to more than 20 arrests. "What they did is, they counted," Kelly said, "They actually had a countdown -- 10, 9, 8, 7, 6...."
Kelly: Protesters To Be ‘Met With Force' If They Target Officers
Park Owners: Sanitation 'Becoming A Problem'
NEW YORK (October 6, 2011) -- NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly had some strong words for "Occupy Wall Street" protesters Thursday, blaming participants for starting skirmishes which led to more than 20 arrests on Wednesday.
"What they did is, they counted. They actually had a countdown -- 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 -- they grouped together, they joined arms and they charged the police. They attacked the police. They wanted to get into Wall Street, they wanted to occupy Wall Street," Kelly told reporters.
Police arrested 28 people Wednesday -- mostly for disorderly conduct. There was at least one arrest for assaulting a police officer and police said one protester even knocked an officer off his scooter. Kelly said that if demonstrators targeted the police, authorities would respond with "force." "They're going to be met with force when they do that -- this is just common sense," he said.
The commissioner said protesters were told to stay within the barricades that police had erected and when they crossed over them they began hassling the cops. "These people wanted to have confrontation with the police for whatever reason. Somehow, I guess it works to their purposes," Kelly said.
The commissioner told reporters that the protests have cost the city about $2 million in overtime for officers assigned to cover the demonstrations. Despite the clashes and arrests, Kelly stressed that as long as protesters followed the rules, there would be no issues.
"We are accommodating peaceful protests. We are proud of the fact that we do that in this city. People are going to be here for an extended period of time. We're going to accommodate them as long as they do it peacefully and in accordance with the laws and regulations," he said.
The problem for the city and the police is even if they wanted to, they can't evict "Occupy Wall Street" as long as they make Zuccotti Park their headquarters. It is private space that must be opened to the public "The charter, it gives access to the park 24 hours a day, seven says a week," Kelly said.
When asked by CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer if there was an end game, his response was carefully considered. "You know, we'll see. Right now they're on private property and people who own that property don't have the power to eject them," he said.
But Brookfield Office Properties, which owns Zuccotti Park, seems to be slowly building a case against protesters, saying Thursday that the protestors are interfering with the use of the park by others and are creating sanitary problems.
"Sanitation is a growing concern," Brookfield said in a statement. "Normally the park is cleaned and inspected every weeknight. . . because the protestors refuse to cooperate. . .the park has not been cleaned since Friday, September 16th and as a result, sanitary conditions have reached unacceptable levels."
The End-game at Zuccotti Park?
According to the NYPD, the landlord has to 'push the political button'
Nancy Scola / Capital Magazine
WALL STREET, NY (October 6, 2011) --As City Hall continues its wait-and-see response to the Occupy Wall Street protests, a glimpse of the end-game between the protesters and the city became clear last night in the unlikely setting of a local community board meeting.
Zuccotti Park, a less-than-one-acre public park in middle of the Financial District, has served as the base camp for the protests (and the real "occupation" site). But Zuccotti Park is owned not by the city, but by Brookfield Properties, the North American real-estate company that owns the adjacent office building, One Liberty Plaza. This complicates the city's latitude in responding to the occupation.
In public statements, Brookfield has gently suggested to the city that it is past time to restore the space to its normal use, and has posted signs in the park objecting to the sleeping bags, tarps, and use of benches as beds throughout the space.
But they've stopped there, according to a representative of the New York Police Department who attended the meeting last night. He said that Brookfield Properties would have to formally declare the protesters trespassers. It's something the real-estate company hasn't yet done, but when and if it does, it is likely to result in the clearing of the park by police.
THE CHANTS OF THOUSANDS OF OCCUPY WALL STREET protesters streaming by City Hall last night floated up to the 7th floor of the Emigrant Bank Building on Chambers Street, where the Financial District Committee of Community Board One met to wrestle over whether to issue a formal resolution on the swarms of people who have, for the last 19 days, made their home in the center of their district.
What emerged over the course of the night is that the community board's greatest hope for restoring some degree of livability to their neighborhood -- one affected by the Sept. 11th attacks, a decade of construction and uncertainty since, and now street closures, late-night drum circles and a loss of vendors -- is, for the time being, to work with the protesters to negotiate some terms of peaceful cohabitation. Clearing the park, if that goal might ever ultimately be agreed upon, would at any rate have to wait.
The board hosted two representatives from among the protesters in addition to the NYPD representative, and they went head-to-head in a meeting room while police and protesters clashed in the streets below.
Committee chair Edward "Ro" Scheffe began the meeting by reading letters he said he's received from neighbors. One had written that "the current financial system is not fair. But neither is taking over one of the few small parts of our quality of life that is a plus, and not a minus, in this tourist-inundated construction site we call home."
Several other letters carried the suggestion of moving the protest-camp to the far larger, city-owned Battery Park.
"Whose streets? Our streets!" the chants continued, at times so loud it was hard to hear the speakers at the meeting.
"What would have to happen is that a representative from Brookfield would go into the park, and say, 'You're in violation of the rules of the park that apply. You're trespassing,'" Detective Rick Lee of the NYPD's community affairs office told attendees.
They pressed him to be sure: It's Brookfield's move to make, then?
"That's the scenario," Lee said. "Politically, when that button is going to be pushed is beyond my pay grade."
"Welcome to the 99 percent," said Justin Wedes, one of the protester-representatives at the meeting, using a tagline popular among the protesters defined in an affiliated Tumblr blog as the people who are "getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything."
Given the circumstances Lee had detailed, various members of the committee had come to conclude that a formal resolution from the community board couldn't do much good.
"The people who need to know that our neighborhood is being disrupted -- the mayor, Brookfield, the police -- they all know that loud and clear," said Patricia Moore, chair of the board's quality of life committee and a 34-year resident of the neighborhood.
And there were worries that putting the community group's concerns in writing could put the organization in an unwelcome political position.
Last spring, Community Board One found itself the target of considerable heat when it voiced support for the building of the Cordoba House Project -- the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque." Last night, committee members tried with varying degrees of success to avoid the politics of the moment, and stick to the logistics. Sometimes, the temptation was too great.
"If we're talking geographic location," Scheffe said, "my view is that you guys need to be in Greenwich, Connecticut, at the gated communities, where the rich people live. Because the people being disturbed are middle-class people, just like you."
His remark was directed at Wedes and Naomi Less, a fellow Brooklynite who had joined him at the meeting on behalf of the protesters. Scheffe had already been working behind the scenes with Wedes, to get the agreed-upon quiet hours in the square rolled back one hour, from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Wedes added that the discussions were particularly useful in making the protesters understand that not everyone living in this slice of lower Manhattan are "hedge-funders and rich bankers."
Community Board One represents parts of lower Manhattan including Tribeca, the Financial District, Battery Park City and South Street Seaport. A simmering frustration throughout the evening was the challenge of working with Occupy Wall Street's non-hierarchical governing structure, known as General Assembly.
The Wall Street protests, inspired in part by Egypt's Tahrir Square protests and a suggestion to model a protest on them published by the "anti-consumerist" magazine Adbusters, has adopted a consensus-driven model, where decisions are made by consensus, with hand-signals for votes.
Wedes and Less continually responded to questions and requests by saying that any promises to the community would have to come from the General Assembly, at one point confusing an attendee who seemed to think the reference was to the U.N. "That's one of the issues of dealing with this non-leadership thing," said Moore. "It takes a while."
Of course, the same could be said for New York City community boards, which under the city charter are charged with delivering to the mayor and city council non-binding but often heeded guidance on zoning, development, and other issues affecting their sections of the city.
Slowing down the process last night was the challenge of finding a target. Who controls the levers that need to be pulled?
Brookfield was identified early. If the Committee was to suggest anything as rash as clearing the park, it would have to make its appeal to Brookfield. But in the meantime, the police department, for example, might be called upon to draw down the number of officers stationed continually on the perimeter of Zuccotti Park.
Less suggested that the NYPD could check the movement's website, occupywallst.org, so that they can ramp up only for scheduled marches.
"It's going to get bigger," added one committee member. "We need to think about this. Actually, it's not us that needs to think about this," said Moore. "The city needs to think about it."
The chants got louder again.
"Everywhere we go, people want to know, who we are, so we tell them…"
At one point, someone got up to make sure that the windows were closed.
In the end, last night, the Financial District committee of Community Board One resolved, after an hour and a half, not to put forward any resolution. The idea of moving the protesters to Battery Park was ruled unfeasible; the head of that park's conservancy, the ruling authority over the park's use, would object strenuously, it was suggested.
Instead, the group opted to keep working through back channels to both the city and Occupy Wall Street, in the hopes of advancing informal "good neighbor" policies for the site.
A subcommittee of four was chosen for the task. The police department, it was concluded, might be asked to consider rolling back its objection to the use of megaphones in Zuccotti Park. The General Assembly had, after earlier trouble, been relying on a technique known as "the people's mic," wherein a sentence spoken by that moment's speaker is repeated by the ring of people standing around him or her, and then by the next ring, so on and so forth, until it has rippled through the park. The people's mic, it was agreed, was rather more noisy and annoying than a megaphone might be.
The police might also, it was decided, be asked to reconsider barricades in areas of the neighborhood where the protesters had been expected but had not materialized.
For its part, the General Assembly, it was concluded, might also be asked to reconsider holding a scheduled march this weekend on Yom Kippur.
Comity, for a moment, reigned. But it didn't last.
As the evening wore on, Detective Lee turned to the two Occupy Wall Street representatives, and, with a touch of anger in his voice, attempted his own sort of clarification.
"You can split hairs," he said. "Barriers, this, that … but the bottom line is, when are you people leaving? What is your exit strategy? I can't get an answer from anybody."
"These people have lost their park," the detective continued. "They're losing their neighborhood."
A resident in the room added: "And their patience."
"When are you people going to leave?" Lee asked. "I can't answer that right now," replied Wedes, and the meeting soon adjourned.
Sanitary Conditions Risen to Unacceptable Level Said Brookfield Office Properties
Nancy Scola / Capital Magazine
WALL STREET, NY (October 4, 2011) -- As hundreds, and on some days, thousands of protesters continue to camp out in the three-quarter-acre parcel of land in lower Manhattan known as Zuccotti Park, the real-estate company that owns the space is expressing growing annoyance.
"For more than two weeks, protestors have been squatting in the park," said Brookfield Office Properties, the private owners of both the park, which by agreement with the city is open to the public, and One Liberty Plaza, the 54-story building to which the park is tied, in a statement released late yesterday.
"Brookfield recognizes people's right to peaceful protest; however, we also have an obligation to ensure that the park remains safe, clean, and accessible to everyone," the statement continued.
Meanwhile, the city has been noncommittal about whether it intends to bring about an end to the protest, or how or when. Brookfield's complaints are not clearly the job of the city to resolve. In fact it's not really clear who if anyone is required to resolve them.
The park was built originally in a 1968 deal between the builders of the U.S. Steel tower (the building presently called One Liberty) that allowed them to build nine stories higher than zoning laws permitted in exchange for creating a public plaza that would by law be open to the public and subject to various restrictions in its design and operation meant to ensure that the park would be useful to the public.
"These aren't privately-owned spaces that the developers have in their magnanimity allowed the public to use," said Gregory Smithsimon, an assistant professor of urban sociology at Brooklyn College and author of The Beach Beneath the Streets: Contesting New York City's Public Spaces. "There's really an explicit contract between the developer and the public."
It's a contract enshrined, in part, in New York City law regulating the existence of "bonus plazas" and other publicly owned private spaces.
When it comes to Zuccotti Park, that agreement is also enshrined in city records dating back to the 1960s, obtained by Smithsimon under a Freedom of Information Law request this week.
And it's a contract more quietly enshrined in the steel, glass, granite, concrete and flower beds that make up the site: The city traded away rights to a bigger building than it otherwise would have allowed, in exchange for open park space. But with protestors making themselves at home, Brookfield isn't much liking its end of the bargain.
According to the Department of City Planning documents acquired by Smithsimon, which reach back to 1968, the U.S. Steel tower proposed for the area bounded by Broadway, Church Street, Liberty Street, and Cortlandt Street, would be accompanied by a southerly portion of the site "completely devoted to plaza use."
In exchange for 26,000 feet of park space, the city granted permission to add some 303,000 extra square feet of building space, for a total of 1.8 million square feet. What's more, the developers would be permitted to use the park in calculating the maximum building size they'd be allowed to erect.
"The floor area will exceed that which would be permitted by right for this block alone," reads an accompanying report from the City Planning Commission dated March 20, 1968, "but will not exceed the total area permitted for the two blocks as a whole."
Today, One Liberty Plaza bulges on its block. Google Maps satellite photos today show the resulting hulking building taking up nearly the entirety of its lot. (Take a Google Street View walking tour of One Liberty Plaza and Zuccotti Park.)
The trade-off: what was then Liberty Park Plaza and is now Zuccotti Park.
"The city will gain what amounts to a permanent open park in the heart of one of the most densely built-up areas in the world," the planning commission report continues. "It is principally because of this public benefit that the Commission has view this application with favor."
The bonus building space won by the developers in the deal amounts to nine extra floors of commercial real estate in Manhattan's financial district. Modern-day renters of One Liberty Plaza reportedly include Goldman Sachs, Scotiabank, and the headquarters of NASDAQ. Brookfield spent $8 million to renovate Liberty Park Plaza after Sept. 11, naming it after the chairman of Brookfield Financial Properties, and a former deputy mayor and city planning commission chairman, John Zuccotti.
At what is probably a low-ball estimate of asking rent in the building of $30 a square foot, back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest something in the ballpark of $9 million a year in extra revenue made possible by Zuccotti Park.
"I don't get to begrudge them," said Smithsimon. "That's the deal. But in return we get a park we can use, not one we can just look at."
PARKS ARE, GENERALLY SPEAKING, WHAT PEOPLE make of them. And at the moment, this one is being used not as a sandwich-eating spot for area workers, a usual use, but as the home base of a protest quickly gathering global attention.
Developers accustomed to an orderly, largely painless park-ownership experience are confronting the messiness and spirited debate that can accompany truly public parks once they come face-to-face with sometimes ornery city dwellers and urban visitors.
That 1968 agreement over the U.S. Steel Building plans amounted to an early exercise of a principle put in place under the landmark New York Zoning Resolution of 1961.
The city had long restricted the heights of buildings. According to city history, the 42-story Equitable Building shocked New Yorkers at its building in 1915 when it "cast a seven-acre shadow over neighboring buildings."
Hoping to pair urban density with open spaces, in the early '60s the city pioneered the art of incentive zoning -- trading one consideration for another -- an urban planning practice that has since spread to the rest of the country.
But the tension between the city and developers over the value of these privately owned public spaces has existed since nearly the beginning. The spaces produced under the arrangement have been a mixed bag, according to the city and urban advocates.
According to a 2000 report and database undertaken by the Department of City Planning, the Municipal Art Society and Harvard professor Jerold S. Kayden, the city was, then, home to 500 bonus plazas and similar spaces. More than 40 percent, they concluded, were of marginal utility for the public.
"Only with increasing public awareness, further refinement of design standards, and diligent regulatory review and enforcement," the Department of City Planning has concluded in presenting the report, "can New Yorkers be assured of high-quality privately owned public spaces."
"It's basically been an arms race from the beginning," said Smithsimon. "The developers tell the designer to build a space that attracts my tenants, and only my tenants. But once they do, the city outlaws how they did it."
The city's last major amendment of the city's privately-owned public space laws happened in 2007, with a tweak in 2009. The wrangling is implicit in the minutiae. The city now prohibits sunken layouts and excessively raised ones, lights that go off less than an hour after dusk, "unappealing sidewalk frontages," spikes on surfaces that can reasonably be used for resting and uncomfortable seating generally; and requires free-standing signs identifying the owner of the park and much, much more.
Still, the provisions don't say much about how the parks can, as a practical matter, be used. Securing, cleaning and maintaining the parks are the responsibility of the owner, so it's not clear who is supposed to respond to Brookfield's complaints that it can't maintain the space while the protest continues or how they would respond.
Brookfield, which declined to speak beyond its issued statements, has argued that the park is designed for "passive use," an expectation violated by the tarps, sleeping bags, and even full-fledged tents the protestors have brought to the space. People have a right to peacefully protest, they assure. But enough is enough.
The company complains that the park is becoming a mess. The power washing, litter collection, and general maintenance that its staff generally does at night has proven impossible with an occupied park.
"Sanitary conditions have risen to an unacceptable level," said Brookfield in yesterday's statement.
One place where these privately-owned parks differ from true city parks is that they rarely close at night, for cleaning or otherwise. The default, under city law, is 24-hour operation, and nothing in the papers released by the city indicate that Brookfield has received an exemption from that requirement. (Central Park, by contrast, closes at 1 a.m., reopening five hours later.)
"These are by definition in high-density areas," said Smithsimon, and the foot traffic is expected to keep them safe. Besides, he said, the city is reluctant to allow corporate owners to equip themselves with gates that can be closed and hours that can be shrunk over time.
That the use of Zuccotti Park is, in some ways, less scripted than can be said for its city park equivalent is, somewhat ironically, a boon to protestors. "Occupy Wall Street" has a cachet that "Spending the day in Wall Street, going home for the night, and coming back fresh in the morning" doesn't.
"What Brookfield could say to the protestors," said Smithsimon, "is 'we're going to clean one half of the park one day, and the other half the next.'"
But it's certainly not clear what authority Brookfield might have to strike such a bargain with the protesters -- or to enforce an agreement without the aid of the Mayor's office or the police department or some other city agency.
At the moment, all sides hint that negotiations are underway over how this might be brought to a close.
"We continue to work with the City of New York to address these conditions," said Brookfield in yesterday's statement, "and restore the park to its intended purpose."
Neither the mayor's office nor the New York City Policy Department have returned Capital's requests for comment on what that process might look like.
But as for the park's "intended purpose" and any unintended purposes the public might assign to the space on its own, there hasn't yet really been a legal or political challenge over how free assembly or speech laws are affected by the private ownership of the space. On that topic, wrote William H. Whyte, the famed urbanist, in his 1980 classic, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, "a stiff, clarifying test is in order."
With the Occupy Wall Street protests entering week three, a stiff, clarifying test might be on its way.
"They're creating a moment," said Smithsimon of the Occupy Wall Street protestors, "when we're all forced to realized that these spaces aren't just for eating lunch."
Bupkus wrote on October 4, 2011, 3:30 PM
I was there last night. One of the things I noticed, was amidst the social discourse and commiserating and police coming in and out, to make sure everyone knew they were in charge...
was people sweeping, (this was around 1am), and making sure things were clean. I understand, Brookfield has a protocol and people they pay to do the cleaning. But people living in the park, have had to deal with everything NYC is famous for... rats and squirrels and bugs. and this week, some severe weather changes. So people are being really conscious about cleaning up after themselves, and the space around them.
For their own survival sake. They're not allowed to use tents, or sleeping bags, which would make things more self contained. They're not allowed to have most creature comforts, to survive comfortably outside in the elements.. by the powers that be, who are allowing this to go on, and not be crushed. .
These are intelligent, articulate people. This isn't a tailgate party going on down there.
Not for nothing, was Mussolini best known for having the trollys running on time, or what??..
as more and more unions and social groups join on to this thing, It would be our honor as Americans to see how this movement finds it's way. Brookfield should look big picture, at what side of history they want to be on.
I strongly suggest Brookfield offer up a few floors of office space to house this movement. Maybe downstairs from Goldman Sachs
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