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Occupy Portland complaints pit city agencies against each other
Protesters' camp could lead to fines for Portland Parks and Recreation
Occupy Portland's already controversial tent city became a vexing and almost unheard of new problem Friday that could lead to a legal dispute between two city agencies.
Between 200 and 400 Occupy Portland campers have settled into Chapman and Lownsdale squares a block from City Hall and Portland Mayor Sam Adams has not made a move to evict the political protest group. The Occupy Portland campground violates city anti-camping ordinances.
Late Thursday, after two complaints were forwarded to the Portland Bureau of Development Services, the bureau followed its standard process for handling complaints on the use of public property. It sent a letter to Portland Parks and Recreation about the possible violations and asking recently appointed Parks Director Mike Abbate how he intends to address the situation.
Chapman and Lownsdale squares on Southwest Fourth Avenue are city parks zoned for open space. It would appear the campgrounds set up by Occupy Portland protestors violate the open space requirements.
On Wednesday, the bureau of development services sent a similar letter to Michael Wright, owner of the vacant lot next to the Chinatown Gate on Northwest Burnside Street. Wright has leased his property to a group that set up a Dignity Village-like camp for homeless people. A story in Thursday's Tribune noted that the Burnside Street homeless camp had been notified of potential violations but the Occupy Portland camp had not.
Matt Grumm, policy manager for City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, said that in the seven months since Saltzman has taken over the Bureau of Development Services, he has not seen a case in which the bureau sent an enforcement letter to another city agency.
Does the bureau intend to treat the homeless and Occupy Portland encampments the same? 'There are definite differences between public and private property and how we view working with them,' Grumm said. 'But, BDS definitely intends to treat both situations in an equitable manner.'
Mike Liefeld, the bureau's enforcement program manager, said Friday morning that in his 11 years with the bureau, he could not recall an enforcement letter being sent to another city agency.
The complaints about the Occupy Portland site could force the bureau to examine three primary issues, Liefeld said. The two city parks are zoned for open space, which appears to be disrupted by the tents. Overnight camping could be a second violation, since, like the West Burnside Street property being used by homeless campers, the park is not zoned for campground use, though the city's anti-camping ordinance is being challenged in a three-year-old lawsuit in federal court. And, one of the complaints to the bureau involved late-night drumming from the Occupy Portland campground, which potentially could violate city noise ordinances.
No deadline for city response
All of those represent an unusual, possibly unique mess for bureau of development staff to wade through even as Adams has allowed the protestors to remain encamped.
'We're trying to figure out how the codes would apply to this situation,' Liefeld said.
In most zoning violation cases, once bureau staff establishes that a violation occurred, the property's owner - in this case the parks bureau - is given time to fix the problem. After that comes enforcement, usually in the form of escalating fines levied by the bureau.
Liefeld said that no deadline had been set for the parks bureau to respond to the BDS letter. The letter to Michael Wright, the owner of the homeless encampment on West Burnside Street, asked for a response within 10 days.