At a noon news conference, Mayor Michael A. Nutter raised a series of public health and public safety concerns regarding the Occupy Philly site on Dilworth Plaza.
The Mayor said that the Occupy Philly contingent has noticeably changed since its arrival in early October and has refused to establish regular communications with the City. “Occupy Philly has changed, so we must change our relationship with them – things have changed,” Mayor Nutter said.
As a result of a pattern of public safety incidents, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey will establish uniformed officer foot patrol through the plaza and deploy officers at strategic locations near the Occupy Philly area.
The Mayor’s statement follows:
I’ve asked you here today because of my very great concern about dramatically deteriorating conditions on Day 39 in our engagement with Occupy Philly on City Hall apron, also known as Dilworth Plaza.
Occupy Philly has changed. We’re seeing serious health and safety issues playing out on almost a daily basis.
Occupy Philly is fractured with internal disagreement and disputes. The people of Occupy Philly have also changed and their intentions have changed … and all of this is not good for Philadelphia.
When I met with representatives of Occupy Philly on Wednesday Oct. 5 in my office, I made it clear to them: that the City would in fact protect their free speech rights and that we wanted to cooperate with them, But I also said that the life of the City must go on: it is our daily business that must be conducted and not be impeded.
And I pointed out to them that day that there is a major project planned for Dilworth Plaza, that it’s been in works for a number of years now – a $50 million remake of Dilworth Plaza into an open, green, vibrant space … built by the 99 percent for the 99 percent.
And they told me that they would be peaceful, that they would not be disruptive, that they would obey the laws of the City of Philadelphia and that they would communicate with us regularly and they only wished to express their free speech rights.
On Oct. 11, the City sent a letter to Occupy Philly representatives, setting out a series of public safety and public health concerns that had quickly arisen, including the following:
Combustible structures near historic City Hall;
The lack of an emergency fire lane near the building;
And a growing problem with litter, public urination, defecation and graffiti.
Unfortunately, Occupy Philly did not respond to our growing public safety and health concerns. Finally, two weeks ago, on Sunday Oct. 30, a group of Occupy Philly leaders met with my staff and me at the American Friends Services Committee offices at 15th and Cherry. It was a cordial exchange of views and concerns.
The following day, the City of Philadelphia sent an email to the group asking for weekly meetings, which we had discussed the previous day when we met, so that we could better understand each other’s issues, concerns and requirements, and so that we could work together to identify possible sites for relocation or even other programs and activities that we could work on mutually to address some of the concerns the group has had here in Philadelphia and across the nation.
We also described in that Oct. 30 meeting, two additional pending maintenance related projects: the removal of scaffolding from the tower area and a separate project requiring a scissor lift to make repairs to a number of City Hall windows that actually look down on the Occupy Philly location.
It’s now two weeks later, and there has been no response to our concerns … none whatsoever!
Instead, what’s abundantly clear now is that Occupy Philly is in violation of the terms of its permit, which requires it as an organization to observe our city ordinances.
Let me describe just a few of the issues:
Into this highly combustible environment – with tents and wooden pallets, bedding and waste – we know that some are using cooking stoves, candles, lanterns and of course there has been widespread smoking with the potential for fire and tragedy.
On Oct. 28, we had a small fire in that location in which a nylon tent went up in flames.
This past Friday, the Fire Marshal and a Haz-Mat team supervised the removal of a known propane tank that was Gerri-rigged to a small heater and a hurricane lamp. We are quite sure, unfortunately, that many more such units are hidden in tents throughout their encampment.
In spite of the presence of porto-potties, the problem with public urination and defecation remains a significant health threat. In short, conditions there are unsanitary and that also includes food distribution.
Friday night, the Occupy Philly general assembly voted against moving from Dilworth Plaza:
Occupy Philly is now purposely standing in the way of a nearly 1,000 jobs for Philadelphians at a time of high unemployment. They are blocking Philadelphians from taking care of their families.
We’ve seen the rise of new groups as a part of this movement like the Radical Caucus, which is bent on civil disobedience and disrupting city operations;
Many of the people that we talked to in the beginning of this event and activity are now gone. They are no longer on the site. They are no longer on the scene. And Occupy Philly has refused to engage in active, regular discussions with us. This change in behavior is no accident. It is a direct result of the fact that this movement has changed and the people have changed.
In recent weeks, there have been numerous reports of thefts and assaults in the Occupy Philly space. In addition, between Oct. 6 and Nov. 11, there have been 15 EMS runs related to the Occupy Philly site.
And then last night shortly before 8 pm, a woman reported an alleged sexual assault in one of the tents. This incident is also under investigation.
These conditions are intolerable. Occupy Philly is not acting in good faith, and it’s now abundantly clear that on many levels this group is violating a range of city ordinances and the terms of their permit.
Of necessity, we are now at a critical point where we must reevaluate out entire relationship with this very changed group.
Occupy Philly has changed, so we must change our relationship with them – things have changed.
Very soon, we must prepare for the renovation project of windows in City Hall on the west side. It is a project that is vital to the safety of our city employees and Occupy Philly members who are directly below. It will require a number of tents and structures to move.
We do not seek confrontation with Occupy Philly. As a matter of fact, I have expressed almost every day my very strong belief in many of the issues and concerns that the original Occupy Philly individuals that I met with have raised:
Issues related to unemployment, poverty, bank lending, homelessness, the rights of people to express themselves.
Again, we do not seek confrontation with Occupy Philly. We prefer cooperation but these issues of public health and public safety must be addressed, and addressed immediately.
Misconduct is not about free speech, and the behavior we’re now seeing is running squarely into the needs of our City government that also represents the very real 99 percent. As Mayor of the City of Philadelphia, I represent the 99 percent also.
Our responsibility is bigger than Occupy Philly, our responsibility is to all of the citizens, all of our public employees, to the entire city and the region.
And so for all the reasons I’ve enumerated including public safety concerns, I have asked Police Commissioner Ramsey to increase the uniform police patrol in the area where Occupy Philly is as well as establish structured and strategic positioning and deployment of officers on a regular basis in that location as well.