G-20 protesters plan to sue over permit delays
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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 today.
"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 and 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 today.
Public Safety Director Michael Huss yesterday evening said that the city has gotten 15 permit applications, and at least eight were provisionally granted.
He also said city will create two public access sites, where demonstrations will be allowed with or without permits.
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 to 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.
Mr. Walczak said that doesn't satisfy any of the groups' concerns. He said his lawsuit will have as many as seven plaintiffs, including Code Pink, Three Rivers Climate Convergence and the Thomas Merton Center, and because of the quick timeline, he expects to ask the judge assigned to the case to hold a hearing on a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction sometime next week.
Code Pink wanted to camp for a week in Point State Park, said Ms. Porter, but offered an alternative plan that would have them at the Point from Sept. 20 to 22, and then moving to Schenley Park from Sept. 23 to 25 to make way for other events. She said the group expected just 50 to 80 people each day at workshops on water rights, refugee conditions and the effects of war on children.
They got a permit to use a smaller area near the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Sept. 21 and 22, but no final answer on their primary request.
Camping in city parks just isn't allowed, the mayor said.
The groups will argue that creation of a tent city is "an expressive end in itself," said David Meieran, an organizer with Three Rivers Climate Convergence, which wants to set up a several-hundred-person "Climate Camp and Sustainability Fair" or "Camp Rachel Carson" in Point State Park or Schenley Park.
There are both Equal Protection and First Amendment components to the issue of the tent cities, Mr. Walczak said. Equal protection comes into play, he said, because sometimes people have been allowed to sleep out on city property.
"We can't find any outright ban on sleeping in city parks," he said. "It's really discretionary."
The Merton Center has requested a permit to march from Oakland down Fifth Avenue to the City-County Building, and has asked to be allowed to continue northward on Grant Street to the area around 11th Street and Liberty Avenue.
Mr. Huss said they won't be able to proceed up Grant Street to that spot, nor to the Strip District public access zone, because that would pierce the security perimeter drawn up by the Secret Service.
One group that said it had no permit problems is the Alliance for Climate Protection, which includes the United Steelworkers of America and the Blue Green Alliance. It intends to conduct a Made in America Jobs Tour rally in Point State Park Sept. 23. Joined by state Sen. Jim Ferlo, the alliance is hoping to have former Vice President Al Gore speak at the evening event.
If that permit has been granted, it shows inconsistencies in the city's policies, said Mr. Walczak.
"It raises content, or viewpoint-based discrimination," Mr. Walczak said. "The more politically influential folks get a permit, and the folks who are much more critical of President Obama and the G-20 don't."
First Published September 11, 2009 12:00 am