Abatement begins at Cuddy Park while some question the legality of kicking campers out

Abatement begins at Cuddy Park while some question the legality of kicking campers out
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 5:42 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage police were in Cuddy Park on Tuesday afternoon to tell campers remaining in the area that it was time to move on.

At the same time, Parks and Rec crews were cleaning up what was left behind.

The city posted notices on May 24 that it planned to abate an area that included the Loussac Library grounds, Cuddy Park and a parcel owned by the city known as the old National Archives site, where many tents were located.

The abatement is taking place to make way for a three-day music festival in the park that is expected to draw thousands of people in a few weeks. But the concert isn’t happening on the archives site next to Cuddy Park.

City Ombudsman Darrel Hess said he’s gotten plenty of questions about why campers there had to go.

“I think the public generally understands that Cuddy Park is being abated because it’s permitted for a large concert event,” Hess said. “But they’re questioning why the old archives land to the east of the park is also being abated when it’s not covered by the park permit, and other unsanctioned camps in public spaces aren’t currently being posted or abated.”

Many people are curious why some campers are being asked to leave if the space they’re on won’t be used for the concert.

“People are questioning, ‘Are they being moved out of the park simply because the promoter doesn’t want them in a space looking unattractive next to where they have paying customers?” Hess said.

By law, the city can’t abate homeless camps unless shelter space is available — but the city says there are exceptions, including public safety concerns that come with having a large concert next to a homeless camp.

Parks and Rec Director Mike Braniff said the city decided it was best to abate the entire area, including the archive site.

“We elected to draw a little wider zone than just the park property itself because we really felt like that was the prudent thing to do for public safety as it relates to really, what is going to be one of the largest events that Anchorage will see this summer,” Braniff said.

The ACLU of Alaska has a slightly different take. Attorney Ruth Botstein said the city shouldn’t be abating any camps without shelter space available, inside the park or out. She said the city created the problem when it closed the Sullivan Arena without a plan.

“When the city decided to close the Sullivan Arena shelter and not to have any indoor option for people, it knew that that was going to mean that people were going to — by necessity — have to camp in public parks,” Botstein said.

“If you can’t say to people, ‘Look, you can’t camp here but we have a safe place that you can go that is indoor and safe from the elements,’ if you can’t say that to people, you don’t have the constitutional right to tell them they can’t sleep where they are sleeping,” Botstein said.

The ACLU of Alaska informed the city on Monday that 13 campers planned to appeal the abatement decision in court. Botstein said the judge’s ruling won’t come in time to affect the abatement at Cuddy, but it could be important if the city tries to abate other camps when shelter space is not available in the future.