On Dec. 13, Asheville City Council will vote on an ordinance banning camping, storage and enclosed structures on city property. Occupy Asheville protesters are currently encamped in front of City Hall.
Camping in public parks is prohibited by city ordinance, which also sets a 10 p.m. curfew. But the ordinance doesn’t prohibit pop-up tents, overnight occupation of city properties that are not parks or sleeping on public property.
“In essence, what the ordinances do is clarify that public properties, including parks, remain available for free speech or assembly purposes, but that other activities not essential to the free speech or assembly use do not occur in such a way as to interfere with the use and enjoyment of these properties by others,” says the summary written by City Attorney Bob Oast. “Unpermitted activities must yield to activities for which a permit has been obtained. As drafted, these ordinances provide that they may be enforced through criminal penalties, a Class 3 misdemeanor.”
Oast’s summary names Occupy Asheville as the catalyst for the new rules.
“Most of these issues and uncertainties have arisen in the context of the ‘Occupy Asheville’ movement, which is similar to ‘Occupy’ movements occurring in cities across the country,” Oast writes. ” In other cities, encampments have been forcibly dismantled and there have been confrontations with police, and legal actions with mixed results. The experience in Asheville has been generally cooperative and respectful, with no serious confrontations.”
But, he adds, “concerns have arisen with some activities, notably the use of enclosed tents, proximity of the encampments to business/public entrances for nearby buildings, and presence on or near public right of way. These concerns would exist with any similar use of City property.”
Meanwhile, Occupy Asheville participants have been debating whether to break camp or move to another area, citing safety concerns, such as problems with belligerent drunks, as well as the challenges posed by the coming winter. Just after new Council members were sworn in at City Hall on Dec. 6, a general assembly met outside the entrance to consider the matter. Some protesters argued that Occupy Asheville’s resources are better focused elsewhere and that occupying foreclosed properties or setting up a base on private property is a better tactic. Others asserted that the current location is ideal to reach the public and, despite the problems, is becoming safer and better organized. Debate continued at general assemblies throughout the week, and Occupy Asheville has not reached a consensus on the fate of the City Hall camp.
Council will decide the matter at its Dec. 13 meeting, starting at 5 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall.