The gained considerable momentum Sunday with a rally in the park followed by a march to City Hall, protesting the upcoming two-year closure of the park for a .
About 100 people showed up for although it had nothing to do with camping out in the park. This Occupy event was intended to be a picnic, but rain early Sunday morning left the ground too wet to sit down.
Young, old, gay, straight, male, female, Russian-speakers and English-speakers all turned out for the 1 1/2-hour rally. Passing a bullhorn around, many residents talked about their love of the park, what an important role the park plays in their lives, how much their children enjoy playing there and how a two-year closure will greatly impact their lives.
“Save Our Park, Save Our Trees,” was the rallying cry as a group of about 35 then marched a mile away to City Hall, carrying protest signs in English and in Russian.
Cars honked as they drove by, while onlookers cheered. Organizers played a continuous loop of the Joni Mitchell lyrics, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got 'til it’s gone. They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”
“This is what democracy looks like,” commented resident Shawn Thompson, pleased with residents’ responses.
Rally organizers Stephanie Harker and Cathy Blaivas were happy so many people turned out.
“We hope the City Council will listen to us and stop this plan for the park,” said Harker. “They keep saying they’re doing this for us, but they’re doing this to us, because we don’t want it.”
Resident Rudolf Martin was also pleased with the turnout. “This crowd is getting bigger and bigger,” said Martin, who has lived near the park for 10 years. “The opposition to the underground parking is growing, so I’m really happy to see this.”
$10 million underground parking garage
The majority of Plummer Park is scheduled to close in February while construction crews dig a $10-million, 179-space underground parking garage in the center of the park.
In the process of digging that garage, most of the trees in the park will be removed and the Great Hall, the Long Hall and the Tiny Tots preschool building will all be demolished. Additionally, Fiesta Hall will get a complete makeover to become a state-of-the-art performance center.
City Councilman John D’Amico was the only council member present, although he did not speak at the rally. He told Patch he felt it was important for him to be there.
As for the absence of the other council members, D’Amico said, “That doesn’t mean I’m the only one who’s listening. My colleagues are really checked into what’s going on here.”
Meanwhile, D’Amico’s appointee to the Planning Commission, Lauren Meister, was also on hand. Meister was the only other city official to attend.
“What the community is saying is the city can do a lot with the park without destroying it and for a lot less than $40 million,” Meister told Patch. “They want restoration and reuse, not demolition.”
Vista Street resident Anson Snyder carried three different protest signs on the march to City Hall. “City Council and City Hall are completely disconnected with the community here on the eastside,” Snyder said. “The proposed plan for Plummer Park has nothing to do with our community. It’s all about the city’s business interests.”
Resident Boris Dralyuk has been trying to spread the word to other Russian speakers who haven’t yet heard about the closure. He, like others, is upset about the closure.
“I visit the park on an almost daily basis,” said Dralyuk, who grew up playing in the park. “To think that it would be locked off from the elderly, from the children, from our past and our future for two years, it’s unthinkable to me.”
TV crews from all the local TV stations were on hand to cover the rally and march.
Meanwhile, the city is attempting to do some PR damage control via fliers throughout the park and emails sent to residents. Those fliers and emails announce, among other points, that it was never the city’s intention to close the entire park. They say the tennis courts and north parking lot, as well as the Community Center and adjacent area, will remain open throughout the renovations.
The Protect Plummer Park advocates plan to be at Monday night’s City Council meeting in large numbers to continue speaking out against the park closure.
“We’ve got to keep showing up and protesting,” said Blaivas. “That seems to be the only way to get the city to listen to us.”