William Thomas
P.O. Box 27217
Washington, DC 20038
April 15, 1998

Department of Interior
National Park Service
White House Liaison
1100 Ohio Drive, S.W.
Washington, DC 20242


Dear Mr. McDaniel,

Thank you for keeping me informed of your plans for the future of the White House and President’s Park. Having reviewed your "Environmental Assessment, Northside Barrier Replacement, Lafayette Park for President’s Park, February 1998" ("Assessment").

The Assessment mentions Thomas Jefferson several times, reminding me of a favorite Founding Fathers’ quote: "Those who value Security more than Freedom will eventually lose both."

I would ask you to consider several thoughts.


First, I would like you to consider the possibility that the Department of Interior (DoI) and the Secret Service (SS) are looking at present security concerns from an extraordinarily pessimistic perspective. Consider, if you will, that for just about two hundred years -- or nearly the entire history of this country -- Lafayette Park was open and free. Suddenly, in 1995, the SS took the revolutionary step of closing Pennsylvania Avenue and barricading Lafayette Park. Since then, U.S. Senator Rod Grams noted, "There are barricades to the left of us, barricades to the right of us, and yet directly in the middle sits what is supposed to be one of this nation's most enduring symbols of freedom. Surrounded by concrete, and ringed by armed guards, dogs, and patrol vehicles, a roadway that once resonated with freedom now reeks of fear." The Assessment seeks to make the police-state appearance more aesthetically pleasing by substituting stately bollards for unsightly Jersey barricades, but the heavy-duty barricades can help the public remember that things haven’t always been this bad. If you make the barricades too aesthetically pleasing, people might resign themselves to the mistaken belief that this sad state is natural.

As Senator Grams also said, "Giving in to fear is not an acceptable response in a democracy." I suggest that DoI and the SS try looking at contemporary security fears as a temporary, rather than permanent, situation. Assuming a more optimistic perspective, the DoI and SS might consider that America will someday overcome its present fears, and return to the opinion that armed guards, dogs, and patrol vehicles are not fashionable. Given the hopeful possibility that someday this country may overcome its fears, it will be easier to remove the Jersey barricades than to remove the bollards.

SUGGESTION: Take NO ACTION on Lafayette Park, instead, assume a more positive view of the future. Begin from the premise that your security forces will one-day be successful, and that the country will once again return to a state of greater freedom and less fear.

Considering what an amazingly strong driving force fear can be, I realize the DoI and SS may ignore suggestions to take NO ACTION, and insist on making the present climate of hyper-vigilance a permanent state. In that case, I would offer the following alternative suggestions.


The Assessment repeatedly asserts that replacing the concrete barricades with bollards will "enhance pedestrian access to the Park." Yet, considering that there are presently gaps between the concrete barricades, it is self-evident that stringing lengths of chain between the bollards will actually have the effect of decreasing "pedestrian access." In fact, since the claim is that bollards are necessary to deter vehicular traffic, and it is the bollards themselves which will serve that purpose, it seems obvious that the lengths of chain will serve no practical purpose whatsoever except to deter pedestrian access.

SUGGESTION: If you absolutely refuse to be dissuaded from planting these bollards, please, Do Not string chains between them, because doing so would only deter pedestrian access while providing no additional protection against vehicles. Likewise, I would suggest that the chains installed last week between the bollards adjoining the street on the south side of Lafayette Park also be removed as they also present an unmerited obstruction to pedestrian traffic.


The Assessment proposes that, "The lodge structure and its associated walled enclosure at the north edge of Lafayette Park would be removed when NPS funding permits." You explain that, "In October 1997 the National Park Service closed the restroom facilities portion of the building in response to a U.S. Public Health evaluation."

In September 1997 Mr. Payton informed me that the restrooms would be closed because they failed a Public Health evaluation. Lafayette Park has a sizeable full-time maintenance crew, equipped with state-of-the-art laborsaving devices. Considering that there is only one toilet and urinal in the men’s room, and two toilets in the women’s room, my knee-jerk reaction to the restroom closure announcement was, "Why not just instruct the maintenance crew to keep the restrooms clean enough to pass Public Health inspections?"

SUGGESTION: Don’t close the restrooms … clean them. In the unlikely event that major plumbing work is required, the cost could be offset by the costs saved on the bollards, which you won’t need to install if the restroom isn’t destroyed.


The Assessment states: "Homeless people are frequently found in Lafayette Park, just as they are found in many other urban areas. Some of these homeless individuals are mentally unstable or intoxicated." Apparently this observation is intended to provide an excuse for closing the public restrooms. But, unless it is intended as an excuse to close all public restrooms in all urban areas where homeless are found, it seems a poor excuse for at least two reasons.

First, the Assessment claims, "prior to the closure of Lafayette Park's lodge building for public health reasons in October 1997, many park users reported that they felt unsafe and uncomfortable using the lodge's public restrooms. This was because the structure appeared to have been taken over by homeless individuals who left it unsanitary."

Certainly, we’ll always find someone who feels unsafe or uncomfortable about something. Doubtlessly, we can even find people who feel so strongly about public restrooms that they’ve never used one in their entire life. Still those don’t seem like great reasons for doing away with public restrooms. In light of the fact that there are constantly at least a couple of dozen police officers on duty within the one-block area of Lafayette Park, it would seem that anyone who felt "unsafe … using the public restrooms," suffers a phobia.

Arguably, perhaps closing public restrooms is an "efficient" strategy for dealing with the homeless, but homeless people aren’t the only ones who will be penalized by the restroom closure. While the restrooms were open I personally witnessed long lines of tourists eagerly waiting to use them while their buses idled alongside the Park. Additionally, I have personally seen the restroom used by office workers, who frequent the Park during lunch, as well as Metro bus passengers waiting on H Street.

Second, the Assessment notes, "Even before the restrooms were closed, however, homeless individuals have publicly defecated and urinated in Lafayette Park and used its fountains for bathing."

Of course, if public defecation and urination are truly problems, closing the restroom would seem likely to increase incidents of public human waste elimination displays in Lafayette Park. Anyway, given the profusion of police officers in the Park, increased public defecation and urination probably won’t create an insoluble problem, because the police can just arrest the offensive individuals.

SUGGESTION: Don’t close the restrooms because some folks feel "unsafe or uncomfortable." Since police security agents are presently so abundant in the Park, it would seem more reasonable to leave the restrooms open for tourists and other people who don’t like to defecate or urinate in public, and instruct the police to direct their energies toward dealing with any non-anecdotal safety problems in the restrooms.


The Assessment "recognizes the important function Lafayette Park serves for First Amendment activities," but also notes, "the Supreme Court has recognized that the Park Service is ‘charged with responsibility for the management and maintenance of the National Parks and is authorized to promulgate rules and regulations for the use of the parks in accordance with the purposes for which they were established’." And the bottom line of the Assessment on First Amendment Activities reads, "Subject to various legal challenges over the years, courts have upheld the constitutionality of the Park Service's existing regulations."

Because it is apparently unrelated to anything else in the document, I find it difficult to imagine why a brief reference to "First Amendment Activities" was interjected into an "Environmental Assessment, Northside Barrier Replacement, Lafayette Park for President’s Park."

SUGGESTION: Please explain why, in a document which apparently deals with the placement of bollards and the fate of the restrooms, "First Amendment Activities" were deemed a consideration worthy of mention.



W. Thomas


Received, April 15, 1998, by National Park Service, 1100 Ohio Drive, SW, letter from W. Thomas to James McDaniels.