Some West Tampa residents to Occupy Tampa: Clean up or get out
The neighborhood association around the Occupy Tampa encampment wants the group to go. People have been camping in Voice of Freedom Park since December. Itâs privately owned which leaves the city and community without many options.
âWhat happened was, progressively more and more there was more trash and more tents that were junky looking.â
That was Mike Vannetta, president of the Old West Tampa Neighborhood Association. Heâs also the areaâs crime watch director. He said he doesnât necessarily blame the political activist group, but thereâs still a problem that needs to be addressed.
âFor whatever reason, a lot of people who werenât Occupy started coming and putting their tents up and they began to drink alcohol there and there was some drug activity and things going on there that we didnât like. So, the neighborhood got together and said, âyou know we need to get these people out of here because theyâre making a mess of everything.ââ
But itâs not that simple. The park is on loan indefinitely to Occupy Tampa by its owner, strip club mogul and entrepreneur Joe Redner. That means itâs private property and if Redner says they can stay, they can stay. And for now, thatâs what heâs doing.
âThere was people not in the park, not on the sidewalk at the park, but across the street from a bar â down the street â just a lot of people just hanging around. It would seem to me that they have more problems with people from the neighborhood than they would have from Occupy.â
But neighborhood association president Vannetta said city officials do have some options.
âWhat weâre asking them to do is to make sure that they are following code â make sure that they are healthy. Thereâs a couple urinals over there and the park, when you walk through, kind of smells a little bit.â
Vanetta said the association has given 100 signed petitions to city council, they have 100 more and letters of support from two church congregations. But according to the Tampa Police Department and Code Enforcement, there are no documented complaints about the park or people in it. Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick said heâll hear from both of those departments on July 19th.
âIf thereâs some violations discovered, Mr. Redner will be advised of those violations and he will be given an opportunity to clean it up. If theyâre not cleaned up than there is a possibility that he could be cited.â
Jake Vigness from Occupy Tampa said the group is working hard to clean up the park. Thanks in part to Tropical Storm Debbie, many tents were removed. Those remaining have been moved to a small corner of the park and a Tampa agency called Clean City has removed debris from the camp and surrounding areas.
âSo, most of it is actually out of sight at this point and things have been brought down and weâve sort of maximized our usage space. So, the park is actually much more open at this point and weâve actually been getting a lot more foot traffic through there.â
And the whole thing could come to a crashing halt anyway. Redner said he has no plans to ask the group to vacate the park, but many of them have anyway.
âI just think that the Occupy movement here in Tampa is losing â not that I want it to or anything â is losing steam.â
Some members of Occupy Tampa and people in the community have grown weary of the occupation, saying the park has turned into more of a homeless tent city than an Occupy Movement encampment. Redner said his park is not the appropriate place to deal with Tampaâs rampant homeless population.
âI think we have to have, we have to address the homeless issue and I donât think the city of Tampa is doing that at all.â
But Tampa city councilâs Reddick said the city is doing something about it.
âWe have a staff member and a Mayor administration who is looking at facilities that might be available in the city of Tampa to make this like a homeless shelter similar to the project they have in St. Pete.â
West Tampaâs Vannetta said whatever happens, the community just wants their park back.
âBasically, Joe Redner said that he wasnât going to ask them to leave until the convention was over. After that, Iâm hoping itâll go back to being our park. I mean, itâs crape myrtle right now and that parkâs loaded with crape myrtles weâd love to just have our park back and I think that will happen.â
Members of Occupy Tampa hosted a barbeque to talk to residents in the area about what they would like to see happen with the encampment and surrounding areas to appease everyone.
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