City sets up protest areas, but protest groups eye lawsuits over permit delays

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Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss this evening said that the city will create two public access sites, where demonstrations will be allowed with or without permits during the Sept. 24-25 G-20 Summit.

One will take up most of the Strip District parking lot between the former Seagate Building and the convention center. There will be a fenced-off buffer zone between the public area and the center, and a fence near the Seagate Building, but visitors "won't be penned in," said Mr. Huss.

The city will pay The Buncher Co. $28,240 for use of the lot from Sept. 23-26.

"When you think about the 20 world leaders being here, and being in this building, and just a few hundred yards away, to have that amount of area, and to be that close, I think it's remarkable," Mr. Huss said, adding that it demonstrated "a great balance" between security and public access.

The second site will be across the Allegheny River, where a city trail passes by apartments.

But the announcement did little to diminish the frusration that many protest groups have voiced about their inability to get permits to demonstrate during the summit, particularly with only two weeks to go before the event.

Groups seeking to march, protest and set up encampments during the G-20 Summit said yesterday that the city of Pittsburgh isn't cooperating, and for the first time threatened to take their concerns to the federal courts, possibly tomorrow.

"People are at their wit's end," said Francine Porter, of Code Pink, which wants to put up a tent city to dramatize the plight of war refugees. "I guess we're going to go ahead with this lawsuit."

That would be premature, said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, whose administration announced two public access zones near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where the summit will be held.

"We are, to the extent that the law allows us, and to the extent that public safety is not jeopardized, going to issue all of these permits," he said. "It's a matter of sharing information -- maybe lack of information -- right now if there's any hang-up with a permit or two."

American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walczak said information from activists isn't the issue. Groups met with city lawyers Wednesday, and offered several alternatives for camping and marching before and during the Sept. 24-25 gathering of world leaders.

"We've been very patient," Mr. Walczak said. "We simply can't wait any longer." He said he'll sue tomorrow.

Other protest groups talked earlier yesterday about their frustration over trying to get permits to demonstrate.

"The city is not cooperating. The Secret Service isn't forthcoming and we insist on exercising our free speech rights," said David Meieran, an organizer with Three Rivers Climate Convergence, which wants to set up a "Climate Camp and Sustainability Fair" or "Camp Rachel Carson" in Point State Park or Schenley Park.

One of the main bones of contention has been the request by Three Rivers Climate Convergence and Code Pink to set up overnight camps in parks.

"I think we cleared that up a few weeks ago in that our parks are closed at 11 p.m.," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "That's a policy that we enforce, not just during the G-20, but 365 days a year."

Mr. Meieran said a tent city is "an expressive end in itself.

"We want overnight because of the educational value that is inherent in an overnight encampment ... One of our primary purposes is the model sustainability -- true sustainability, radical sustainability," including everything from food to waste to "direct democracy."

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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