By Kevin Kelley
Public parks are intended for use by anyone and everyone. But what if a single, large group holds an event at a park and crowds out individuals or smaller groups that want to use the same park?
According to Westlake police, that’s what happened on July 25, 2010. Beit Hanina Social Club, a Cleveland-based organization for people with ties to Beit Hanina, a Palestinian neighborhood in Jerusalem, scheduled a picnic at Clague Park. About 1,000 people attended the gathering, Westlake police said.
Nobody with the city of Westlake had been informed that such a large group was coming, said Westlake Police Capt. Guy Turner.
The Beit Hanina attendees used all the parking spaces and then some, said Turner, who was the ranking police officer that day. Turner, the department’s spokesman, said that police were forced to close the park due to all the congestion.
The individual who had rented the Clague Park cabin that day said his guests had no place to park and that numerous Beit Hanina attendees tried to use the cabin restrooms, police records indicate.
At the end of the day, the park’s public restrooms were such a mess that the Westlake Service Department had to hire contractors to clean them, Turner said. Significant amounts of rubbish were left in and around park dumpsters, he added.
Turner said the police department’s day shift had to stay on duty an extra four hours to deal with the situation at the park, costing the city an extra $2,287 in overtime costs. The service department incurred $2,426 in overtime and contractor costs.
The city cannot afford to subsidize gatherings like this, Turner said.
Fred Elabed, a board member of the group who coordinated with police prior to the 2011 event, declined to comment on the alleged problems associated with Beit Hanina’s use of the park.
“The organization has moved on to another place – a more private location,” he told West Life. He added that they have no plans to hold events in Westlake parks.
Beit Hanina Social Club held a similar gathering at Clague Park in 2009, apparently without incident, Turner said. Last summer’s gathering resulted in significantly fewer problems, Turner said. But he said the city received a few complaints of loud music and lack of parking spaces, and police cited two individuals with disorderly conduct.
The rights of those coming to the park to play or watch baseball games or swim in the pool are infringed upon when a group brings in too many people, Turner said.
“They’re effectively shut out by such a large gathering,” he said.
In recent months, Westlake City Council considered drafting legislation that would require large groups to obtain permits before holding activities at city parks. An initial ordinance draft would have required permits for groups larger than 200 people and events that included concerts, the sale of products, nondomestic animals and fireworks, among other things.
The nine-page draft also called for planners of such events to pay an application fee and purchase insurance for said events.
Council members made clear the draft was not aimed at the Beit Hanina group but was to be used in any situation in which a group might cause similar problems to the 2010 gathering. They also questioned whether legislation might harm organizations with a solid track record of responsibly using city parks. Groups such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Boy Scouts have significant experience running and obtaining insurance for large events, several members noted.
Drafting an ordinance that would address every potential problem proved difficult.
“Every event is going to be different,” Ward 5 Councilman Ken Brady said.
After considerable debate during two committee meetings, council decided to handle the problem mostly through administrative policy rather than adding language to the city code.
At its May 3 meeting, council members passed an amended ordinance authorizing the service director to establish rules regulating the use of city parks. Such administrative rules will likely include at least some of the issues council members considered in their draft ordinance.
Ward 1 Councilman Ed Hack explained that, had the lengthy draft ordinance been adopted, the city code would have then had a chapter as large as some of its sections.
Potential problems or abuses in city parks became a “moving target” for council members, Hack explained. Had council adopted detailed regulations that later needed to be changed, those changes would have required the passage of a new law, he noted. In short, it will be easier to regulate park use through administrative rules, he said.
A draft of those rules has been written and is currently under review by members of the recreation and service departments, Service Director Paul Quinn told West Life. The final version should be completed by the end of the month, he said.