Boulder park closure issue opened to public discussion after pressure from Occupy Boulder

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After Occupy Boulder pressured the city for weeks to deny its newly proposed park closure rule, Boulder's City Council Agenda Committee has opened the issue for a public hearing on January 3. If passed, the proposal will enforce a curfew similar to that of Denver, requiring city parks and recreation areas to close to the public between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. every day because of health and safety concerns.

"We recognize that this is an important decision for our community, and the committee felt that this additional opportunity for public input would be valuable," City Manager Jane Brautigam said in a statement released yesterday.

In the time since Brautigam issued the proposal, Occupy Boulder has come down as a staunch opponent to the idea, which members see as a direct attempt to squash the local occupation. Statements from city officials on the issue cite worries about health and safety risks associated with after-dark activities inside Boulder parks, and encampments have been repeatedly mentioned as one of those concerns. In the meantime, the proposal would not apply to meetings and events approved by the city, which Occupy Boulder is decidedly not.

Last week, the Boulder County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union issued an official statement opposing the proposal to enforce public curfew and condemning it as a step against First Amendment freedoms.

"It is an unnecessary infringement upon political speech, assembly, due process and the Takings Clauses of the US and Colorado Constitutions, and lacks proper grounds for an emergency ordinance," writes chapter board member Deniece Kuwahara in the letter below. "The ACLU urges the City to abandon this ill-conceived and retaliatory proposal. Instead, the City should continue to remain tolerant and accommodating of the historic local demonstration of citizens across the nation who are petitioning the government for redress of grievances."

The Council Agenda Committee's decision to allow a public hearing comes in conjunction with Occupy Boulder's most recent move to property near the city municipal building where the hearing will actually be held in the new year. The group has been repeatedly evicted as the city changes the way it enforces local anti-camping ordinances.

For the time being, Occupy Boulder is a tented encampment again, an accomplishment its Denver counterpart has relinquished for about a month now aside from the larger issue of encumbrances. In much the same way Occupy Boulder has supported its Denver affiliate in weekend rallies and its attempt to shut down the Walmart distribution center in Loveland, members of Occupy Denver intend to support the Boulder chapter at the upcoming public hearing. The two occupations work together on a regular basis.

Originally, the ruling was open only to written comment sent to Brautigam and considered outside the public sphere within an established 15-day period. The lack of public access came under heavy criticism from local groups including Occupy Boulder, who pushed for the opportunity to debate the issue in the public eye before a decision is made.

"This rule attempts to address very specific concerns with broad-based implications," Boulder resident and Occupy Boulder supporter Ilan Sherman writes in a petition launched against Brautigam's proposal. "If the city manager is concerned about public safety, she should create rules that address public safety and do not limit use of public land. Everything about the process of creating this rule has been done in a way that excludes true public comment, denies any accountability by elected officials, avoids open communication with the public and reduces the public trust in our local government."

A handful of occupiers and local residents planned to breach the issue at the January 3 City Council meeting regardless, and the issue was added to the meeting yesterday in an official capacity. Although the closure proposal will not be decided by the city council -- Brautigam will make the final ruling herself -- the public hearing opens the opportunity for an unlimited number of interested parties to comment on the topic in front of city officials before Brautigam has the final say.

The official language for the proposed closure rule is as follows:

"With the exception of pedestrians and bicyclists passing through without delay, it shall be unlawful for any person, other than authorized city personnel, to go upon or remain in any park, parkway, recreation area, or open space between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m."

The public hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. January 3 in the Boulder City Council Chambers at 1777 Broadway, but Occupy Boulder plans to address the issue in advance tonight with a town hall meeting at the Nomad Theater at 5 p.m. Brautigam's original 15-day comment period is still open until January 2, and emails can be sent to an email address created specifically for the issue at parksclosurerule@bouldercolorado.gov.

ACLU Parks Closure Letter to City

More from our Occupy archives: "Occupy Boulder told camping is okay, then ticketed for camping (VIDEO)."

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