William Thomas
P.O. Box 27217
Washington, D.C. 20038

Office of White House Liaison
National Park Service
1100 Ohio Drive, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20242

March 9, 1999

Dear Mr. McDaniel,

I appreciate this opportunity to comment on the final Comprehensive Design for the White House and President's Park ("CDP"). Essentially, my present concerns remain the same as those raised in my letter of April 5, 1988. While the CDF stresses "dignity" -- a word which appears at least sixty-four (64) times in the document -- I suspect the "dignity" of the White House and President's Park might actually, if unintentionally, be achieved at the expense of human dignity, public access, public welfare, common sense, as well as freedom of assembly and expression,.


"The presence of homeless individuals in public parks is an urban problem. Some are there as a result of circumstances beyond their control, some are there by choice, and still others are there because of physical or mental disabilities. tthe presence of homeless people is perceived as incongruous with the expected dignity of the site, and local workers and visitors sometimes see these individuals as threatening or disturbing ..." CDF, pg. 48.

I submit that Lafayette Park is probably more heavily surveilled and patrolled by police than any square city block on the planet. Assuming "homeless individuals" are indeed a "threat," they would certainly be more threatening in any area where there are fewer police -- which, in reality, would be anywhere. Therefore, while some "local workers" and "visitors" might perceive "these individuals as threatening," in light of the extraordinary police presence, such "threatening" perceptions are entirely groundless, if not delusional.

Moreover, at the very least with respect to those "homeless individuals" who "are there by choice," to whatever extent "local workers and visitors" might "see these individuals as ... disturbing" should be recognized for as exactly what it is: a disturbance in the mind of the beholder.

For these reasons I believe that it is inappropriate for the CDF to express any concern with "the presence of homeless individuals in public parks" due to the "dignity of the site."


"A February 1998 Environmental Assessment was prepared to analyze designs for permanent bollards to replace the temporary concrete barriers that were put along the north side of Lafayette Park in May 1995. This action is expected to enhance pedestrian accessibility to Lafayette Park ..." CDF, pg. 42.

Although the final CDF makes no specific reference to chains linking the proposed bollards on the north side of Lafayette Park, both from your July 24, 1998 letter, responding to my letter of April, 1998, and from our discussion at the public forum on January 27, 1999, it appears that the chains are still part of the plan.

Again I would urge you to abandon the idea of linking the bollards with chains. The bollards themselves will serve the purpose of keeping vehicles out of the Park, and the chains will add nothing to that deterrent effect. On the other hand, it is self evident that the addition of the chains will inhibit pedestrian accessibility to the Park. As I pointed out at the public forum, pedestrian wear on the grass in the Park occurs in areas in the middle of the Park, not along the north side where the bollard system will be placed.


"A lodge built about 1913 in the northeast end of Lafayette Park is now used for maintenance storage; the National Park Service closed the lodge's restroom facility in October 1997 in response to a U.S. Public Health inspection." CDF, pg. 42.

Accessible restrooms are an important aspect of public welfare. Although the restroom facility was closed in response to a U.S. Public Health inspection, with all due respect, the blame for that closure can rest nowhere but with the agency responsible for failing to maintain the restrooms so they can pass inspection. Lafayette Park has a large contingent of maintenance workers. If they can't keep the restrooms clean, common sense seems to dictate that the solution is to employ workers who can maintain the facilities, rather than to close the facilities.


The Park is undoubtedly the premier forum for public expression on the face of the earth. Certain representations made in the CDF cause me even greater concern regarding the fate of First Amendment activities in the area.

"The presence of long-term First Amendment demonstrators in Lafayette Park -- For some visitors and workers the presence of First Amendment demonstrators creates the impression that the area is not well maintained. The rights of First Amendment demonstrators are outlined and protected by federal and D.C. regulations and have been tested in court. Long-term protestors abiding by NPS regulations will be permitted to remain." CDF, pg. 32.

I can't help but wonder whether the "workers" who feel that " the presence of First Amendment demonstrators creates the impression that the area is not well maintained" are the same "workers" who find it impossible to maintain the restrooms well enough to pass U.S. Public Health inspections.

On the face of it the term "long-term protestors ... will be permitted to remain," seems to allay any qualms of interference with constitutionally protected exercise of freedom of thought, expression and assembly in the Park. On the other hand, among various provisions of the Constitution of the now defunct Soviet Union were at least several which purported to outline and protect the "rights" of Soviet citizens. For just one example, Article 50 of the Soviet Constitution provided:

"In accordance with the interests of the people and in order to strengthen and develop the socialist system, citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly, meetings, street processions and demonstrations.
"Exercise of these political freedoms is ensured by putting public buildings, streets and squares at the disposal of the working people and their organizations, by broad dissemination of information, and by opportunity to use the press, television, and radio."

According to what U.S. citizens have been told, despite the provisions of Article 50, when Soviet citizens attempted to exercise their constitutional "rights" in Red Square, they were arrested under the pretext of violating various regulations which also "outlined and protected" the rights of Soviet citizens. My point here, based on personal experience, is that regulations are subject to the personal interpretation of any given police agent. Thus Soviet police agents were able to interpret "freedom of speech, of the press, and of assembly, meetings, street processions and demonstrations" in Red Square as "hooliganism." Unfortunately, when "tested in court," such arbitrary interpretations were often upheld.

One incident which indicates that the same phenomena can easily be applied to "long-term protestors" in Lafayette Park occurred as recently as March 1, 1999. Since at least as early as 1986 the "long-term protestors" had been using sheets of plastic to protect themselves and their literature from rain and snow. During all that period there was an oral agreement with Park Police supervisors that the plastic sheets where permitted under NPS regulations, provided that they where not draped over the signs to form a "structure." In fact, 36 CFR 7.96(j)(2) specifically provides that "a reasonable cover to protect such property" is permitted. (Emphasis added) On a very rainy March 1st morning a Park Police officer, maintaining that regulations mandated "one wall be left open," ordered the "long-term protestors" to open one side of the plastic. After it was established that the regulations contained no such provision, the officer changed his interpretation, claiming that the regulations allowed for only "three cubic feet" of cover. Considering that even a small person is larger than three cubic feet it hardly seems "reasonable" to consider that sufficient cover.

Hence, notwithstanding the representation that "long-term protestors will be permitted to remain," it seems obvious that -- perhaps for the benefit of some visitors and workers who might feel that First Amendment activities demeans the dignity of the Park by creating an ill-maintained impression, or just because someone doesn't like the message being conveyed -- unreasonable interpretations can easily be applied to give the impression of failure to abide by NPS regulations. Of course, it's easy to say, "Oh, that could never happen here," but simple sayings do not insure that the premier public forum on earth is immune from transformation into another Red Square under color of "reasonable" regulatory interpretations.

Assuming that the true dignity of the United States is determined by its' devotion to freedom, rather than by the government's commitment to the groundless fears and aesthetic preferences of some workers and visitors, it seems the CDF should be greatly concerned with maintaining the status quo.



W. Thomas