County votes to close Free Speech Plaza to public

County votes to close Free Speech Plaza to public »Play Video
The SLEEPS camp at Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza outside the Lane County Courthouse

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EUGENE, Ore. - The Free Speech Plaza outside the Lane County Courthouse is now closed to the public.

In a 4-1 vote Wednesday, the Lane County Commission approved an emergency closure of the plaza, effective immediately. Peter Sorensen was the lone dissenting vote.

The vote comes in response to the county health director's report after an August 29 tour of the SLEEPS protest camp in the plaza. The county health officer voiced concerns about sanitation in the camp.

The resolution allows the county to maintain a 24-hour closure through September 10. The resolution also starts the clock on a 4-week nighttime closure of the plaza, which could extend beyond the 24-hour closure period.

The SLEEPS protesters returned to the Free Speech Plaza after a municipal court judge voided trespassing tickets issued to an earlier incarnation of the camp.

The plaza is named in honor of Wayne Morse, the U.S. Senator from Oregon who opposed the Vietnam War.

The SLEEPS group issued a statement via email after the vote:

Come to Free Speech Plaza today, Weds., at 5PM to bear witness to protestors being cited for exercising their consitutional free speech rights....and help move them to their next protest site.  Your support is needed....both physically and emotionally.
They've done it again!.  Despite recent rulings that closing the Free Speech Plaza for five days for cleaning was unconstitutional (too long to shut a protest down) and that the County's 11PM was also unconstitutional, the Lane County Committee has voted to do it anyway.
With a slightly disparaging attitude toward the importance of municipal judges, Commission Chair Leiken dismissed the recent Eugene municipal court decision as not relevant and the Commission voted 4-1 to close the Plaza "until the 10th of September or until cleaning has been completed" and to then reopen it with the old 11PM curfew reinstated.
Cleaning is estimated to take as much as four weeks, far longer than the five days already ruled unconstitutional.  When the Plaza does reopen, it will be with an 11PM curfew, also already ruled unconstitutional.
When a judge has made a ruling the Commission has chosen to dismiss her and listen instead to the advise of the counsel that put them in a losing court case in the first place.