Minneapolis City Council considering anti-Occupy public plaza restrictions

On May 2, the Minneapolis City Council will hold a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would restrict access to city-controlled public plazas between midnight and 6 a.m.

The ordinance, originally introduced as a resolution by Council President Barb Johnson on April 13, is a response to the Occupy movement's re-occupation of Peavey Plaza on April 8. On that night, protestors set up tents in Peavey Plaza, then marched downtown. Twelve protestors were arrested, and one KSTP camera was destroyed.

In cases of late-night congregations or protests in city plazas, Johnson's ordinance would give police the power to arrest people for trespassing if they don't leave the property in a "reasonable amount of time." Johnson said the ordinance "mirrors what Hennepin County passed after their experience [last year] with Occupy on their plaza." The full text of the ordinance can be seen below.

A City Council committee gave the ordinance a tepid reception last week. According to a Minnesota Daily report, Councilwoman Betsy Hodges characterized the measure as a "solution in search of a problem."

"We have had sufficient regulation for years," Hodges said. "But I think it's not just unnecessary, actually, I think it's just wrong."

Her response echoes that of Councilman Cam Gordon, who wrote on his blog that the ordinance "isn't necessary, and it isn't a good idea, and it isn't right."

Gordon wrote:

It puts the City on the wrong side of civil liberties, including freedom of expression. Because any such move by the City will be viewed -- rightly -- by the Occupy movement as a direct attack on them, it positions the City on the side of the 1% against the 99%. It is clearly designed to send a message that Occupiers will be arrested, giving the MPD a green light (and proactive political cover) for more of the mass arrest events like we saw [April 8].

During yesterday's hearing, Occupy activist Osha Karrow pointed out that the ordinance would make life more difficult for Minneapolis's homeless, many of whom spend nights in public plazas regardless of what the Occupy movement is up to.

But Johnson is sticking to her guns.

"I'm concerned about public use in a city where we have 380,000 people that live here, 150,000 people that work in our downtown everyday and 32,000 people that live in our downtown," she said last week, adding, "when you have a city, you have to balance the interests of groups."

The May 2 public hearing will occur during another committee meeting. The full council could vote on the ordinance as soon as May 11.

Here's the full text of the proposed ordinance:

WHEREAS, the City of Minneapolis owns a number of public plaza, including but not limited to Peavey Plaza, Riverfront Plaza, Cedar-Riverside Plaza, Loring Greenway and Nicollet Mall (the "Plazas")'

WHEREAS, the City desires to protect and enhance public use and enjoyment of the Plazas as well as to protect public health and safety;

WHEREAS, the City further desires to coordinate uses of the Plazas granted by permit with the use of the plazas by individuals; and

WHEREAS, the City respects and desires to protect and enhance all lawful uses of the Plazas, including uses involving the exercise of first amendment rights;

Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved by the City Council of the City of Minneapolis:

That in addition to applicable state and federal laws and regulations and City ordinances and permits, use of the Plazas shall be subject to the following rules:

1. These rules shall apply to plazas owned or controlled by the City, including but not limited to: Peavey Plaza, Riverfront Plaza, Cedar-Riverside Plaza, Loring Greenway and Nicollet Mall (the "Plazas");

2. The Plazas shall be available for the use and enjoyment of the public between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 12:00 midnight. Outside of those hours, the Plazas shall be available only for the purpose of traveling through the plaza without delay;

3. Use of the Plazas for camping, sleeping or any living accommodation purposes is prohibited. This prohibition includes preparations to sleep such as setting down bedding or laying [sic] down on the ground for the purposes of sleeping;

4. Personal property or possessions may not be left unattended or stored on the Plazas. Any unattended or stored personal property or possessions may be removed pursuant to M.C.O. 427.100;

5. No portable toilets or cooking or fire building devices are allowed on the Plazas, except as specifically allowed in a permit issued under City ordinances subject to any conditions specified therein;

6. Any persons not in compliance with the above rules shall be provided a copy of the rules and given a reasonable amount of time to comply. If the person(s) have not complied with these rules after a reasonable amount of time has passed, they may be issued a written notice of trespass for the pertinent plaza by the chief of police or the chief's designee. The notice of trespass may not exceed one month. After being served with a notice of trespass, if a person remains on or is found on the pertinent plaza in violation of the notice of trespass, the person may be arrested for trespass.

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