Some West Tampa residents to Occupy Tampa: Clean up or get out listen07/09/12 Janelle Irwin
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The neighborhood association around the Occupy Tampa encampment wants the group to go. People have been camping in Voice of Freedom Park since December. Itâ€™s privately owned which leaves the city and community without many options.
â€œWhat 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. Heâ€™s also the areaâ€™s crime watch director. He said he doesnâ€™t necessarily blame the political activist group, but thereâ€™s still a problem that needs to be addressed.
â€œFor whatever reason, a lot of people who werenâ€™t 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 didnâ€™t like. So, the neighborhood got together and said, â€˜you know we need to get these people out of here because theyâ€™re making a mess of everything.â€™â€
But itâ€™s not that simple. The park is on loan indefinitely to Occupy Tampa by its owner, strip club mogul and entrepreneur Joe Redner. That means itâ€™s private property and if Redner says they can stay, they can stay. And for now, thatâ€™s what heâ€™s doing.
â€œThere 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.
â€œWhat weâ€™re asking them to do is to make sure that they are following code â€“ make sure that they are healthy. Thereâ€™s 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 heâ€™ll hear from both of those departments on July 19th.
â€œIf thereâ€™s some violations discovered, Mr. Redner will be advised of those violations and he will be given an opportunity to clean it up. If theyâ€™re 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.
â€œSo, most of it is actually out of sight at this point and things have been brought down and weâ€™ve sort of maximized our usage space. So, the park is actually much more open at this point and weâ€™ve 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.
â€œI 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 Tampaâ€™s rampant homeless population.
â€œI think we have to have, we have to address the homeless issue and I donâ€™t think the city of Tampa is doing that at all.â€
But Tampa city councilâ€™s Reddick said the city is doing something about it.
â€œWe 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 Tampaâ€™s Vannetta said whatever happens, the community just wants their park back.
â€œBasically, Joe Redner said that he wasnâ€™t going to ask them to leave until the convention was over. After that, Iâ€™m hoping itâ€™ll go back to being our park. I mean, itâ€™s crape myrtle right now and that parkâ€™s loaded with crape myrtles weâ€™d 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.