June 28, 1996
United States Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House
1100 Ohio Drive, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20242
RE: COMMENT ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT OF PROPOSED DESIGN CONCEPTS FOR THE AREA OF THE WHITE HOUSE AND LAFAYETTE PARK,
I appreciate Mr. McDaniels' June 29, 1996 invitation to comment on the design concept being proposed by the National Park Service for the area of Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th Streets, N.W., Washington, D.C.
In April, 1995 I received information from the Committee on the Comprehensive Design Plan for the White House and President's Park. That material described Lafayette Park as "the symbol of our free and democratic nation" and "the symbol of openness in government." As I am confident that the Chamber of Commerce, and the D.C. government will address the economic environmental impacts of closing Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicle traffic, my comments will be limited to the sociological environmental impacts of diminishing the free and open nature of what the Supreme Court has described as a quintessential public forum."
You will doubtlessly recall Red and Tiennanmen Squares, where public dissent was muffled by bureaucratic regulation, backed by the least restrictive police force necessary to protect the dignity of the state. Lafayette Park embodies the environment of democracy. The openness of Lafayette Park has exemplified what "makes America great." This is an environment which the United States held precious enough to justify to nuclear war -- in the words of President Reagan, "if not the end of humanity, at least the end of civilization as we know it" -- to preserve.
Now that the Cold War is over and foreign ideologies no longer threaten the precious values of freedom, it is ironic that the Secret Service (S.S.) should undertake, in the dead of night, to do what the nuclear arsenals of the Evil Empire couldn't.
The accompanying petition of 2437 names, collected entirely in Lafayette Park from U.S. citizens and visitors, symbolizes the international appreciation of this issue.
Not to minimize security concerns, but, one might ask, what is the point of protecting the leader of the "Free World," if there is no free world? Your people have argued that the new Park design will "enhance visitor access." But the design plans include fences or other barriers, and it is plainly illogical to think that barriers or fences "enhance" public access.
No doubt the S.S. will agree that, prior to and since the extraordinary measures of May 20, 1995, the President is safer in the White House than anywhere else. Nonetheless, since 1981 the history of Lafayette Park shows that the S.S. together with the NPS have repeatedly used "security" as the reason for enlarging the security perimeter around the White House.
With all due respect, the planning of your organization would be incomplete without considering less intrusive, perhaps more practical alternatives.
The current plan does not eliminate the possibility of, for example, someone shooting at, or flying an airplane into the White House. Nor does it draw a line on the ever expanding security perimeter. It is not necessary, or even practical, to restrict the openness of Lafayette Park for the purpose of realizing better security. Rather than diminish democracy, greater security for the White House, its occupants and those who work there would be achieved by insulating the structure itself.
Not only would this alternative maintain the environment of a free and democratic nation, a protective dome would actually increase physical security of the structure and its occupants far beyond any of the plans your organization has advanced.
A tangential benefit would be the national econmic stimulation that would result from designing and producing durable, cost efficient, aesthetically pleasing security enclosures.