The Closing of Kesey Square

By: Alex Guarino

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Food cart owner Eric Thomason comes to work with gloves every morning to pick up what is leftover from the night before. He picks up broken equipment that was ripped off his restaurant on wheels, used needles, and cigarette buds before he can even begin to open his cart to customers.

On May 27th, the Eugene Police Department made a proposal to present to the Eugene City Council. This proposal consisted of closing down Kesey Square every day between 11 pm and 6 am-same as city parks. The Police Department thinks that by closing down Kesey Square between those hours it would help free up some of the bad activities that go on during those late hours. Councilwoman Betty Taylor says that the city manager supports this proposal and if approved, it will become effective 30 days after it being approved.

Why do some want Kesey Square closed?

For one, Police Chief Pete Kerns says that businesses near the plaza want it closed at night because food cart equipment is often broken and stolen. Thomason, owner of food cart Wrap City says, “We support the square being closed at night because all vandalism to carts occurs during that time.” Police Lt. Eric Klinko says, “What we have experienced is a big influx of people who are camping down there. They hang out there after using drugs and consuming alcohol. And when the food cart vendors in the plaza come to work in the morning they often have to deal with urine and defecation left behind by the campers.” Businesses have complained that groups of unruly people gather in the plaza late at night and bother customers that are eating, especially the ones who sit outside. Thomason, says that they think the businesses will be positively affected by closing an area that breed’s criminal activity during these hours. Todd Patepoea, owner of Taylor’s Chuck Wagon says “They leave their trash. They leave their needles. They use it for a latrine. It’s absolutely filthy, and it has to stop.”

On the contrary, Civil Liberties Defense Center attorney, Lauren Regan says, “the proposal to close the public square is repugnant in the face of the human rights image touted by the city of Eugene. It’s incredibly classist and discriminatory based on income and status, and I think we gave up those types of policies 100-plus years ago.” Regan also adds that the only reason they’re there in first place is because the city parks are closed and there’s nowhere else legal for them to be. She asks, “Where are they supposed to go?” Some people say that this proposal is targeting the homeless population. Homeless rights advocate Alley Valkyrie says that there is already a lack of public space for the unhoused downtown, but “what downtown Eugene needs are bathrooms, benches and more open spaces.”

According to Councilwoman Betty Taylor, that ‘nearby business people has been complaining about the kinds of people who frequent the place.” But she says, “I am opposed to closing a public space in the middle of downtown. But on the contrary, I would like permanent seating in the area”

Julian Hokana, who works at VooDoo Doughnuts in downtown Eugene says, “I think it will affect VooDoo greatly because our peak hours are when the bars are opening and closing, so it will most definitely affect our business I think.” He adds that he thinks this proposal isn’t fair because its public space and if they are going to take our tax dollars to make it, then we should be able to access it whenever we want. First National Tap House Bartender Colin Clark agrees that Kesey Square shouldn’t be closed down because it’s a big part of the Eugene culture and he thinks it will greatly affect the feel of downtown if it was closed during those hours. Clark also adds “I think if they close it more people that don’t come downtown will start coming downtown because they didn’t like the feel of it before. But no matter what it will affect our business either way.”

Many are confused on how this proposal will even work out because there are always people in the area due to the bars and restaurants that stay open late night. Eugene resident Ron Siever says, “What are they going to say-people at the restaurants and bars can’t hang after 11 pm?” University of Oregon student Michelle Gimenez said, “I feel like they shouldn’t close an area because there are bad stuff going on in the neighborhood. I think they should spend that money on more patrol in the area rather than just closing down the whole area where people enjoy hanging out and performing.”

Citations will be given out if proposal is passed as high as $500 on the first offense, and $1,000 and one year in jail for consequent violations. This proposal also prohibits unlicensed dogs from the downtown zone as well, which covers between sixth and 11th avenues and High and Lincoln streets. What they have to figure out if the proposal is passed is how are they going to let everyone know the boundaries of where they can be, and areas that are off limits.

Question and Answer With Eugene Councilwoman Betty Taylor

Q: What exactly does the proposal say? And hope to accomplish?

BT: The proposal is to close the space from 11:00 PM to 6:00 AM–same as city parks.
Q: Who wrote the proposal up and why?

BT: I don’t know who wrote it.
Q: What happened at the city council meeting with this proposal?

BT:  The city manager supports the idea. Some nearby business people have been complaining about the kinds of people who frequent the place. City councilors were surprised to have a public hearing on a topic that we had not previously discussed. Some councilors requested a work session to discuss the issue. Several councilors expressed opposition.
Q:  If approved when does it become effective?

BT:  I don’t know when it would become effective–probably 30 days after approval.
Q: How do you personally feel about the proposal and why?

BT: I am opposed to closing a public space in the middle of downtown. On the contrary, I would like permanent seating in the area.
Q: How did a lot of the locals react about this proposal?

BT: Some people think it is ridiculous,

Q: How did some of the downtown businesses feel about this proposal?

BT: Some business owners strongly support it.

 

Question and Answer with Wrap City Owner Eric Thomason

Q: Please state your name and the name of your food cart in downtown Eugene

ET: My name is Eric Thomason and I own Wrap City in Kesey Square

Q: When is your food cart open and close every day

ET: We are open from 11-2 and We get down here at around 9 am to do prep and set up

Q: What kind of food do you guys sell?

ET: We promote organic food, locally grown food we eat the food that we make. We take the food home and eat it. You know we lose weight on it its healthy enough. Its great food.

Q: How do you guys feel at Wrap city about the possibility of Kesey Square being closed from 11 pm to 6 am? Since your food cart sits over night? Do you think its a good idea for them to close it? or do you think its a bad idea?

ET: Yes we support the square being closed at night all vandalism to carts occurs during that time. I think the business will be positively affected by closing an area that breeds criminal activity during these hours.

Q: How do you think it will affect the businesses around downtown Eugene?

ET: We think the businesses will be positively affected by closing an area that breed’s criminal activity during these hours.

Q: What do you guys have to deal with every morning before you guys open your food cart?

ET: I come to work with gloves every morning because we have to pick up so much trash, needles, clean up urine, broken equipment from our food cart etc. from the night before. Its disgusting!

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