Monday, July 24, 2017 This Week's Paper

WSDOT Getting Complaints About Occupy Tacoma

Members of Occupy Tacoma posted information on the Internet last week that officials with Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) have visited the small park at the corner of South 21st Street and Pacific that has become the base of operations of the protest movement. Officially named Pugnetti Park, the half-acre parcel has been dubbed Occupation Park by those camped there. It is located between the parking lot of Washington State History Museum and State Route 509.

Steve Pierce, communications director for WSDOT, said complaints have been lodged over the past two weeks from operators of nearby businesses and apartment residents. These include littering, noise in the evenings and a general "loss of the feeling of safety," he said.

The residents of one apartment have stated they will not renew their lease if those camping in the park are not cleared out soon.

Pierce said WSDOT has not taken action to evict Occupy Tacoma. The agency's policy would require posting signs informing them they have 72 hours to vacate the property. It also has policies on collecting and storing personal belongs left on WSDOT property.

For now, WSDOT is in communication with representatives of the city, county, museum and University of Washington-Tacoma regarding the fate of the occupation.

Pierce said this small parcel was never intended to be a campsite. He pointed out that WSDOT could be held responsible if someone is injured on its property. He noted some of the occupiers have tapped into power lines to obtain electricity. "We have potential liability."

Pierce said if the people occupying the park are removed, it will not be a scene of chaos such as those broadcast on television of other groups affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement around the nation.

"If we do anything it will be done in a thoughtful manner," he said. "It will not be done like elsewhere in the country."

Amy Spicer of Tacoma is a member of Occupy Tacoma. She said between 60 and 80 people were occupying the park when the local movement was established last fall. That number has dropped to between 30 and 40.

She said Tacoma police officers who patrol this area of downtown have not expressed concerns about the group. "We do not feel we need to leave."

Spicer said there has been talk of WSDOT officials attending a meeting of the group's General Assembly, but she is unsure when that would happen. She said she spoke to Tacoma City Councilmember Anders Ibsen about concerns that WSDOT may evict the group.

"A lot of them are as much in the dark as I am," Ibsen said about a possible eviction.

Ibsen said he has spoken to some business owners, including leaders in Downtown Merchants Group, and heard no complaints about the occupiers. "However, I am not saying the complaints (WSDOT received) are not legitimate."