Despite some concerns raised by residents, the New Paltz Village Board has given the Occupy New Paltz movement, who set up camp at Hasbrouck Park in mid-December, permission to stay at the Park, with the condition that the group make a formal application for a park-use permit no later than this coming Friday, Feb. 3 to be considered by the board at its next meeting on Feb. 8.
This decision, the board said, came as a result of concerns being raised by some constituents in terms of the village’s liability if something were to go wrong with the Occupiers at the village park. After receiving an opinion from the board’s attorney, which trustee Stewart Glenn said would not be made public, the board decided to require the Occupiers to fill out a park permit application. This represents a reversal of the board’s earlier decision to allow the group to “occupy” the park without a traditional permit, under the belief that it was a political protest protected by the First Amendment.
Some of the concerns raised in public and to the trustees themselves included the Occupiers’ use of village electricity, as there is an open electrical outlet at the park; the pavilion being used for the Occupiers’ food and storage, and thus not available for general public use; potential village liability; and the fact that the Occupiers were given permission to stay overnight, past the dusk-to-dawn village curfew.
Michelle Riddell, a New Paltz Occupy member and local activist, read a portion of a long scroll that she had prepared of reasons why she and other Occupiers believe that we “live in a society where corporations place profits over people.” She went on to say that concerns that have been raised about the Occupy movement in the park had “been addressed, including the public pavilion being cleaned up.”
She then took out a small copy of the US Constitution and read the full text of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” “I don’t see any curfew on that,” Riddell noted, “and this document has been around for quite a while.”
Several Occupiers and/or supporters said that they would be “willing to pay for the electricity” that they had utilized, once the village could give them an approximate dollar amount. Since the concern was raised, the electricity has been shut off. Occupiers had been using it for space heaters in their tents, as well as for hot plates and coffeemakers. “Their usage was also tripping the circuit breakers,” said trustee Sally Rhoads.
Longtime New Paltz resident Dan Farrell said that he continues to voice his concern that the “Village Board acted inappropriately when they voted to allow people to occupy the park 24 and seven. That should never have happened. Park rules state that it’s open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. For some, it started as a political expression; but now it’s become their new address, a permanent residency — which is not the intent of the park at all.”
He said that, while he “agreed with much of the content” of the Occupy movement, he feared that the Village Board was “opening up a can of worms” in terms of liability, in case “one of you came in harm’s way.”
Trustee Rhoads reiterated that the “board agreed to allow the Occupiers to stay until such time as an issue or concern arose, which they have, and then we’d give it further discussion, which we have. We’ve asked for our lawyer’s opinion, and this is what we’ve decided to do,” referring to requiring the Occupiers to make a formal application for park use, which would include insurance. That said, Rhoads added, “I may be naïve, but from what I’ve seen [she lives across the street], the Occupiers have been good neighbors; they’ve been cooperative; and I hope that continues, and I believe it will.” ++