Tensions Flare Over New Orleans City Park Golf Course
UPDATE: March 28, 11:31 p.m.
The individual occupying the tree in a City Park construction area is believed to be in possession of two "incendiary devices."
UPDATE: March 28, 5:40 p.m.
A group of protestors have gathered along the perimeter of a fence securing the clearing and construction area of a new City Park golf course, and some have passed through the barrier, according to protest organizers and social media posts.
"We were tired of seeing the bulldozers knock down the trees," said a woman calling herself Laura Borealis. "We were having a second line out here (in the public area of the park) and decided to keep going."
Borealis says she and a small group of protestors passed through the barrier and blocked a bulldozer for about 30 minutes, adjacent to an area of the park in which a man calling himself Beaux has settled into a tree with what appears to be a hammock and a store of food and water.
"The fence was already conveniently knocked down," Borealis says," so we just went in and stood in front of the bulldozers."
The tree in which Beaux is located is some distance from publicly-accessible areas, and limited contact can only be made by shouting. Police officers are on the scene, and could be indistinctly heard in conversation with Beaux and each other.
"I was in the Quarter this morning and they were talking about walking in groups" for safety, says Jeff Katz, an Uptown resident and a member of the City Park for Everyone Coalition protest group. "But they have money for armed guards all through this park?"
UPDATE: March 28, 12:15 p.m.
Another protestor, calling himself Beaux, is said to have climbed a tree in the area of City Park being cleared for the construction of a new golf course.
This is the same area of the park in which a man occupied a tree for 12 days.
According to an update posted to the City Park for Everyone Coalition's Facebook page, Beaux says workers in the Park discovered him in the tree, and police are on the scene.
Climbing apparatus and a construction vehicle clearing brush can be seen in a 5-minute clip posted to a cell phone video sharing site under the hashtag #WildIsFree. A large banner hangs from the tree alongside food,
water liquid in containers, and what appears to be a hammock.
This story will be updated.
A protest over the reconstruction of a New Orleans City Park golf course entered a new stage Thursday, with the filing of a federal lawsuit against the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the agency that runs the Park.
Organizers, loosely collected under an umbrella organization calling itself the City Park for Everyone Coalition, have called news conferences, flown drones over the construction areas, and packed a Park board meeting with protesters. Members of the coalition are furious at what they see as the destruction of public wild space in exchange for a rarefied, exclusionary sport.
In a memorable instance of civil disobedience, a man and woman climbed a tree slated for destruction and lived in it for days. The woman, calling herself “Heart,” left the cypress after a long weekend, but Jonathan “Lloyd” Boover remained in the branches for nearly two weeks.
“It is a little bit scary when you have to kind of catch yourself, because you know you’re about to fall when you’re half-asleep,” Boover told NPR’s Melissa Block on the March 19 episode of All Things Considered. Boover said he had camped in trees before, and had just enough food and water to last him until Monday the 23rd.
On Tuesday morning, Boover fell. According to NOLA.com, he lost his balance waving to supporters gathered behind a fence and plummeted to the ground.
Boover was taken away in an ambulance, and reportedly booked on charges of criminal trespass and resisting an officer by the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office. Boover said police officers kept spotlights trained on him at night.
“Mr. Boover was acting on his own and we'd never heard of him until he started camping in the tree,” wrote Christopher Lane, Vice President of the City Park for Everyone Coalition, in an email. “I think his actions show that there is a tremendous frustration in the larger community about how City Park has ignored citizens' wishes and blundered into a terrible mistake.”
The Coalition’s 22-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday morning, seeks to halt the demolition process and accuses Park management of ignoring public input and creating an exclusionary space “available or desirable only to a very narrow segment of society.”
The lawsuit also names Craig Fugate, acting head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The suit says FEMA failed to adhere to wetlands and historic preservation laws in approving recovery funding that will be used by the Park in the clearing of brush and construction of the new golf course.
However, City Park says the development of a new golf course has been a deliberate process taking more than 10 years, and hundreds of people have attended public meetings as the Park redeveloped its Master Plan following Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. A City Park spokesman says more than 6,000 trees have been planted in the Park since the storm, with 500 more to come, a number three times as high as the number of trees lost to Katrina’s winds and water.
City Park is technically owned by the city of New Orleans, but has been operated since 1891 by an independent public body called the New Orleans City Park Improvement Association. The Association’s members are appointed by local, regional and state legislators and business groups, or elected by the Association’s other members.
Golf course updates are listed in years’ worth of CPIA meeting minutes, posted on the Park website.
The Park has undergone several significant changes over the years, including additions in 1904, 1928 and 1937, and a significant period of construction by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
City Park makes money from concessions like soccer field rentals, rent on buildings (like the Morning Call beignet stand), special events like Christmas in the Oaks, and a special political creation called the City Park Taxing District — which directs the city sales and use taxes collected within the Park to the Park. The taxing district earned $214,377 in Fiscal Year 2013, according to a Legislative Auditor’s report.
In all, the Park says it must self-generate the other 85 percent of its $15.6 million annual operating budget, and the new golf course is essential to long-term financial stability and viability.
The Park says it has reduced the total number of acres dedicated to golf in its Master Plan from over 500 to about 340. But the people who have grown to love the wild space lakeside of Harrison Ave. aren’t going to let it go easily.
“We are committed to stopping construction and opening this process to a democratic and representative conversation so that community needs can be addressed, rather than a single interest being served,” says Lane, the vice-president of the protest group. “This protest is not about golf — there are golfers in our coalition — it's about community access to what has been a tremendous community asset for the last 10 years.”
In the meantime, clearing of the trees has begun. The cypress in which Boover and Heart lived is gone.