P.O. Box 27217
Washington, D.C. 20038
Office of White House Liaison
March 9, 1999
National Park Service
1100 Ohio Drive, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20242
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
"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
PUBLIC WELFARE AND COMMON SENSE
"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,
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.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY AND EXPRESSION
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.
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"
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.
"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,