By Lee Perlman
According to some of its neighbors, Colonel Summers Park has become too popular as a place to hang out and drink. Reactions from the bureaus of Police and Parks have produced counter-protests from homeless advocates.
As Elizabeth Kennedy Wong and Art Hendricks of the Park Bureau related at last month’s Buckman Community Association meeting, park neighbors have complained that drinking and rowdy behavior there has gotten out of hand, and is affecting nearby properties. Hendricks said that impromptu parties, advertised by social networking, are drawing people from as far as Estacada.
The Park Department’s response has been to increase patrols of Colonel Summers by police and by the bureau’s Park Rangers security patrol.
In addition, Kennedy Wong said, a survey was circulated to consider short and long-term measures. One of these was to gate or even remove the pavilion that is used for the distribution of food at public events. This led to the perception that such steps were imminent.
Lindsey Walker of the homeless advocacy group Food Not Bombs protested the pavilion steps in particular and Parks’ response in general. She said the survey was distorted because it was distributed to people who had complained. (Hendricks said it was also handed out at the park.) Walker said Rangers were being unreasonably aggressive in harassing anyone who had alcohol in their possession.
“Unless there’s a physical disturbance, the police have no business being there,” Walker said. “It’s not the job of the police to just arrest everyone who’s breaking the law. This just aggravates the problem. For a person who can’t go to a bar, this is their place to hang out.”
To this, Buckman co-chair Susan Lindsay said, “The rule is universal: you can’t drink in parks”. The need to address neighbors’ problems outweighs “inconvenience to young people who can’t drink while they are traveling through.” To reach a broader solution, she told Walker, “We have to work together, and I hope you will.”
Hendricks said Parks needs to make the point that “this park is not an open bar. It’s tough to go in and deal with hundreds of people, some of whom are glad to see us; some of whom are not so friendly.”
Kennedy Wong said Parks is moving forward on Colonel Summers improvements, such as removal of damaged trees and “limbing up” of others. More extreme steps, such as closure or elimination of the pavilion, represent “a profound decision that the community would have to be involved in”.
Later in the month there was a follow-up meeting attended by more than 100 people. Parks officials have promised to bring a considered response to the issue at the August Buckman meeting, 7 pm, August 8 at the Multnomah County building, 501 SE Hawthorne Blvd.