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Editorial

A late-night City Hall park

The city may be worried about a repeat of the Occupy L.A. encampment, but it's being too restrictive with new hours for the grounds.

April 10, 2012
  • The Los Angeles City Council is considering curtailing the hours for City Hall Park -- the site of the two-month long Occupy L.A. encampment -- when it reopens next month.
The Los Angeles City Council is considering curtailing the hours for City… (Los Angeles Times )

The Los Angeles City Council will soon consider curtailing the hours for City Hall park, the site of the two-month Occupy L.A.encampment, when it reopens next month. Instead of the sweeping lawn being accessible to the public from 5 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., as most city parks are, it would open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Existing rules on tents would be clarified and the ban on camping would be reaffirmed.

City officials say the area lacks the amenities — lights, recreational facilities — of parks that are open later. But the vast majority of city parks — all except some three dozen out of 400 — have installed the facilities and taken the necessary security steps to stay open late. Would it be so difficult to make some adjustments at City Hall? Or are the proposed regulations actually intended to prevent the return of theOccupy L.A.activists, who have indicated that they would like to begin holding their several-day-a-week meetings there rather than in Pershing Square?

Occupy L.A.'s stay in the park last fall caused lots of hand-wringing (and a tattered landscape that cost $400,000 to refurbish). The demonstrators should not have been allowed to camp for months in a park where it was illegal — although the mayor and members of the City Council invited them to do so at the outset. The city is absolutely right to clarify and enforce regulations that would ban pitching a tent or sleeping there overnight. People simply can't live on the grounds of City Hall.

And we agree that this is not the typical recreational park. In fact, it has become a kind of 1st Amendment park, a place for people to gather, speak and petition. It's more important to maintain that opportunity than to keep the grass manicured. Even under the city's proposal, people could request permits to gather in the park after hours, and officials say the city would administer that process in an evenhanded manner. But granting permission is different from ensuring access.

As city leaders encourage people to live, visit, shop and walk their dogs after business hours downtown, they send the wrong message by closing a prominent gathering spot at the start of the evening. If the biggest issue is the darkness of the park, then perhaps the city could judiciously install some lights without compromising its appearance. But the hours for City Hall's park should not be rolled back. They should remain as they were.

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