Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park has officially reopened after a six-month closure that was sporadically enforced and after the removal of an encampment from the park last week, the Parks Department announced Wednesday.
The Parks Department will be setting up ping pong tables and outdoor dining areas in the park to help “activate” Cal Anderson, a news release said. The department will also be creating a children’s scavenger hunt in the park, the release said.
Officials initially declared the park closed on June 30, as the city grappled with the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) in the area. But people continued to use the space for recreation, gardening and camping after the CHOP was dismantled.
Police descended on the park twice in late summer to clear an encampment of homeless people and activists. Tents quickly returned to the space, leading eventually to another removal last Friday.
Some business owners and residents complained to the city about dangerous conditions at the park, including open fires, while other residents objected to the displacement of vulnerable people, citing Seattle’s housing crunch, the city’s homelessness crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Parks Department said Cal Anderson had to be cleared to make way for “intensive maintenance and cleaning.” There was a delay when protesters gathered at the park last Wednesday and the removal was challenged in court, but a judge ruled last Thursday the city could move ahead.
Police made 20-plus arrests as protesters opposed Friday’s removal. On Sunday, police broke up what participants called “antifa soccer” at the park.
Work at Cal Anderson since Friday has involved “grounds maintenance, building repair, graffiti removal, and litter pick-up,” including the removal of 100 tons of debris, Wednesday’s Parks Department news release said.
Repairs at the park’s comfort stations and shelter house are ongoing, the release said. Longer-term projects will restore Cal Anderson’s fountain, install new artwork and “pilot” a community garden, according to the city.
Various Seattle departments have worked with community members to “re-envision this park and the surrounding blocks to be safer, more welcoming and inclusive, and to honor the protests,” the release said.
The Department of Neighborhoods held online “community conversations” in August, September and October about potential changes at Cal Anderson. The Parks Department will announce “additional engagement” opportunities for the public in early January, the release said.
The city’s plan for changes at the park includes “outreach for individuals experiencing homelessness on Capitol Hill,” and the Parks Department will bring new activities to the space starting this week, Wednesday’s release said, including pingpong tables, outdoor dining and the scavenger hunt.
“Cal Anderson Park has been an epicenter for activism and social justice movements for decades and is the heart of the Capitol Hill community,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement that was included in the news release. “As we move into 2021, Cal Anderson will continue to be a hub for the entire community — neighbors and park visitors alike.”
Parks Superintendent Jesús Aguirre added, “During the pandemic, access to outdoor space and recreation activities has been more important than ever for the physical and mental wellbeing of so many in our community. The reopening of Cal Anderson Park restores essential open space in this dense and vibrant neighborhood.”
Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, said announcements like Wednesday’s “sometimes seek to create the illusion that pingpong games and outdoor dining are the answer to the desperate circumstances” of people who can’t get housing.
“I have no problem with the city seeking to do things to make sure that parks are clean and safe and accessible to all,” she said. “But there are people living in parks across Seattle because they don’t have somewhere else to go.”
Since Friday, city-contracted outreach workers have provided people in and around the park with 12 referrals to hotels and shelters, Wednesday’s release said. In recent weeks, 51 people in the area have been connected to hotels, shelters and tiny houses, the release said.