Activists and community defense volunteers filled Capitol Hill’s Cal Anderson Wednesday morning as an announced city and police sweep of the park appeared to be paused — if only temporarily.
Police did not immediately enter the park and made a few shows of cruisers and lights while a mix of law enforcement and media helicopters buzzed the area around the 7:30 AM deadline for the announced clearance of “personal property” from the homeless encampments and mutual aid activities inside the 7.4 acre park in the heart of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
CHS reported here on the city’s order posted Monday morning to clear the park after months of closure, protests, and camping in the wake of the CHOP occupied protest and Black Lives Matter rallies and marches. The city says outreach workers have been in contact with campers including 40 in the past week with 10 being referred to shelter facilities.
Meanwhile, another park camp on Capitol Hill has been reduced to a few tents after outreach, and trash and discarded belongings were cleared at Williams Place Park at 15th and John. The encampments were untouched as of Wednesday morning, however, at another area on Capitol Hill that has become busy with campers at Miller Community Center.
Seattle Parks says “a multi-day intensive maintenance and cleaning project” at Cal Anderson will follow the clearance.
The action comes as the city says property owners, community groups, and businesses have called for Seattle Parks to reopen Cal Anderson and bring an end to its months as a center of unrest.
Activists and organizers, meanwhile, point to CDC guidelines against sweeps during the COVID-19 crisis and the city’s lack of adequate shelter space. Others say sweeping in the middle of winter only days before Christmas is especially cruel.
According to the filings, Yeager has been living in Cal Anderson since early June and has been subjected to “repeated harassment from the City of Seattle by way of ‘sweeps.'”
The civil rights lawsuit is seeking for the clearance of Cal Anderson to be called off and “general and special damages” including “pain and suffering and compensation for wrongful incarceration.”
It’s not clear what effect if any the suit has had on the city’s plans to clear the park. SPD is referring media to Seattle Parks and a department representative said that the clearance effort is under the parks department’s direction.
Police have reportedly told businesses and property owners in the area that there will probably not be a clearance effort Wednesday.
The city has, of course, not confirmed that decision:
City’s response when we asked if clearance happening today pic.twitter.com/yzxjHx7QSb
— jseattle (@jseattle) December 16, 2020
UPDATE 5:21 PM: In a telephone conference on the request for a temporary restraining order to halt the sweep,Judge Richard A. Jones refused to rush an order in the federal civil rights case and said he would issue a written ruling by Thursday.
The legal decision throws the city’s efforts to clear the park into a temporary limbo. In the hearing, lawyers for the City Attorney said that there had been “a postponement of the action” to clear the park Wednesday due to the litigation. Any city action overnight would come in the shadow of a possible ruling by Judge Jones on Thursday that could halt any ongoing operations related to the park.
In the session, lawyers for the city argued that outreach efforts have been successful but that “a number of individuals are refusing to leave” for “extremely complicated political issues.”
Ghazal Sharifi of the Seattle City Attorney’s office said workers have been threatened in the park and cited a roster of public safety concerns. Sharifi also said outreach has been successful for “17 people” with shelter or hotel referrals as of Wednesday morning. An additional eight people declined assistance but left the park, the city says. Sharifi estimated approximately 10% of people currently in park are “unhoused.”
Braden Pence of Mazzone Law said he was only blocks away from Cal Anderson during the teleconference and could hear sirens from the unfolding situation at the park as he argued for the restraining order. Pence argued that the situation in Cal Anderson is not unique and there are “encampments across the city” and not enough resources to help. The sweep threat, Pence said, was about the political ambitions of “Jennifer Durkan.”
At one point, the judge stopped the proceedings and asked the sides to take a 20 minute call to discuss a “temporary cessation” that would delay any sweep. During the call, the plaintiffs asked for two weeks, the lawyers said. The City Attorney’s office said it could not agree.
After reconvening, Judge Jones did not reveal his hand in choosing to delay a decision for a matter of hours saying the court would not be “rushed.” Jones chastised Pence after the Durkan comment for veering into “speculation” from the facts of the case and drilled Sharifi on how the city treats seized property collected during sweeps. There is a “full plan in place” around storing property, Sharifi attempted to assure the court.
Jones promised his ruling on the restraining order by Thursday morning but said he would attempt to file it overnight “if we can get it done.
Legal decision throws the city’s efforts to clear the park into a temporary limbo. Any city action overnight would come in the shadow of a possible ruling from Judge Jones that would halt any ongoing operations related to the park https://t.co/GF0bVd4VuM
— jseattle (@jseattle) December 17, 2020
Happening now at Cal Anderson. Intentional fire set in a tent with some fireworks inside. No injuries. pic.twitter.com/Wdq0aMM3G9
— Alex Garland (@AGarlandPhoto) December 16, 2020
— riotkitchen206 (@riotkitchen206) December 16, 2020
Activists and a few hundred community defense volunteers spread out across the area of the grassy meadow near the park’s southern edge next to the Bobby Morris sports field, surrounding as best they could the central core of the park’s tents and encampment set-up. Some campers in the hours before the 7:30 AM deadline were packing up their belongings and leaving the camps.
Protesters also blocked off portions of 11th Ave and a few street corners around the park with caution tape, garbage cans, and dumpsters.
At one point after 7:30 AM came and went without a raid, protesters set fire to an empty tent as the occasional firework also popped off in the park. More fires were reported set to debris near the circle of fences and barriers organizers have tried to string together in the center of the park.
Construction crews at nearby work sites watched from the top of the multistory, multimillion dollar developments quickly taking shape near the Capitol Hill Station light rail facility north of the park. Meanwhile, dog owners and athletic trainers spread out across the sports field turf south of the park
There were no reported contacts with police at the camps overnight and into the first minutes after the 7:30 AM notice. Meanwhile, the media presence grew and also spread through the area around the park.
UPDATE 4:45 PM: As a federal judge considers a possible restraining order to halt any clearance of the park, activists have begun an occupation of a vacant house near Cal Anderson Park.
The house appears to be a single family-style home lined up for demolition to make way for a planned five-story apartment building with 10 “small efficiency dwelling units” and 8 apartment units. Developer Build Urban purchased the property in 2017 for $1.3 million according to King County records. The house faced foreclosure and is now the property of Ascent Capital Fund.
📣 Call for bodies to support the occupation! 📣
Protestors are occupying an empty house on the NE corner of Cal Anderson in protest of the sweep. Come through!
— alyss4nator (@alyss4nator) December 16, 2020
UPDATE 4:55 PM: SPD has objected to CHS’s characterization of the planned sweep.
“Any action in any city park is done by the Parks department, not the police department,” a spokesperson tells CHS. “Seattle PD is always available to assist parks department personnel, but they, and not the police department, are the agency responsible for the parks. We would only be present in a support role to the Parks department.”