More 400 Block Nonsense
by Dino Corvino on June 29th, 2016
I love the 400 Block, I really do. I took part in the planning, and fundraising for the 400 Block over the course of many years, many meetings, and countless hours of frustrating discussion. The end result though it brilliant and fabulous, and something I am incredibly in love with and proud of. To be frank though, the never ending 400 Block kerfuffle is exhausting. Privately, I know what I feel about the constant din of downtown related drama, and we can get into that, but I have something else I would like to say.
I hold the City Council of Wausau, former Mayor Jim Tipple, and the City of Wausau Police Department accountable for this latest round of public hair pulling related to the 400 Block.
It appears that there is a problem with a small population of humans who use the public park in a way that many people do not like. Disclosing, I do not like it myself. I saw someone pee on the stage this week, and it is a stage that I helped sketch in the basement of a business at a meeting. It is a stage that has music, yoga, public speeches and all manner of gathering held on it. I walk around the 400 Block, and yes, I see a small cadre of human beings acting out. Do not get me wrong, I do not have a problem with public intoxication as such, but when the drunk person in question decides to speak to or yell at others around him or herself, then it is not a private activity. It is an activity that is forced upon someone simply in public. On Wednesday or this week, I heard what seemed like 3 adult men comment on a woman’s breasts as she walked by. This type of behavior is, with decorum, bullshit.
But, let me be clear, the actions or proposed actions of the Wausau City Council are not the answer. It appears that the plan right now going ahead is to limit the consumption of alcohol to sanctioned activities, and after 4 pm. This sadly, is council over reach.
First off, I do not drink so I am not affected by anything they come up with. But, for fun, let us say that I have a week off of work. My friend Aaron is a wine enthusiast, and is in town visiting and wants me to try some wine (which I will surely hate) that is amazing. We decide it is a great day so we get some food and go sit on the 400 Block and eat a small meal, and he forces me to drink wine (which I hate surely). If it is 3 pm, we are in violation of the possible ordinance. Great, two old men drinking wine (one unwillingly) while sitting and talking are in violation.
Or this, what about the White Linen Party that has happened repeatedly on the 400 Block over the years. I am not sure it is a sanctioned event. If I recall the photos, maybe 20 people come together with some prepared food, some wine and beer, and all dress in white and enjoy the company of each other. Again, 3 pm, this is a violation.
Secondly, the City of Wausau has everything it needs in place ALREADY to enforce this space. Please, check this link. What you will find is a part of the Wausau Municipal Code. I bring your attention to the following:
Section 9.04.026. This section does not address the BAC of a person, rather the behavior of a person. It reads…
“9.04.026 Prohibition against public intoxication. (a) Intent and Purpose. It is the policy of the City of Wausau to comply with Chapter 51, Wis. Stats., as well as to provide for the safety, welfare and health of the public as is permitted under section 62.11(5), Wis. Stats., while prohibiting certain harmful conduct of intoxicated persons. Being publicly intoxicated makes a person vulnerable to injury, robbery, assault, and a number of other difficulties. This section addresses the behavior of the individual rather than his or her blood alcohol content level, thus encouraging responsible behavior while consuming alcohol, providing a benefit to both the individual and the public. Nothing in this ordinance is intended to contradict those elements proscribed under Chapter 51, Wis. Stats. (b) Definitions. The following terms shall be defined as follows in this section. (1) Controlled substance. A substance as defined in section 961.01(4), Wis. Stats. (2) Controlled substance analog. A substance as defined in section 961.01(4m), Wis. Stats. (3) Incapacitated person. A person, who as a result of the use of alcohol, a controlled substance, a controlled substance analog or any combination of an intoxicant, a controlled substance and a controlled substance analog is unconscious or whose judgment is so impaired that he or she is incapable of making a rational decision, as evidenced objectively by indicators such as extreme physical debilitation, physical harm or threats of harm to himself or herself or to any other person, or to property. (4) Intoxicated person. A person whose mental or physical functioning is substantially impaired as a result of the use of alcohol, a controlled substance, a controlled substance analog or any combination of an intoxicant, a controlled substance and a controlled substance analog. (5) Public place. A place to which the public has access, and includes, but is not limited to, places owned or controlled by the city, county or state, any public street, highway, sidewalk, parking lot, alley, parks, schools, places of worship and places of Wausau Municipal Code 9 – 6 business. Places of business include premises open to the public where alcohol is consumed including a licensed alcohol establishment. (6) Public nuisance. Conduct by an individual that is a disturbance of the peace, including, but not limited to, endangering himself or herself or other persons or property, engaging in behavior that is disruptive, harassing or threatening in nature to other persons, acting in an unruly or combative manner, creating loud noises to the disturbance of other persons, refusing to follow the instructions of a law enforcement or community service officer, refusing to follow the instructions to leave a place of business by the owner, employee or other person in charge thereof, or otherwise disturbing the peace in any public place. (c) Intoxication in public places prohibited. No person shall, in a public place, conduct himself or herself in such a manner as to be an intoxicated or incapacitated person and to create a public nuisance. (d) Penalties. (1) First Offense. Any person violating the provision of this section is subject to a forfeiture of one hundred and fifty dollars. (2) Subsequent Offenses. Any person violating the provisions of this section is subject to a forfeiture of three hundred dollars. (Ord. 61-5589 §1 2013, File No. 13- 0911)
Section 9.24. This is an entire section intended to define Nuisance and create the structure for the City of Wausau to handle it.
Specifically, I draw your attention to 9.24.050 Sec N. It reads, “(n) Any unauthorized or unlawful use of property abutting on a public street, alley or sidewalk or of a public street, alley or sidewalk which causes large crowds of people to gather, obstructing traffic and free use of the streets or sidewalks; “
The City of Wausau Municipal Code directs the City of Wausau on how this is to be enforced, and through what departments it shall be enforced.
I offer Section 9.28.010, which reads, “9.28.010 Enforcement. It shall be the responsibility of the chief of police, director of inspections and electrical systems and health officer to enforce those provisions of this title that come within the jurisdiction of their offices, and they shall make periodic inspections and inspections upon complaint to insure that such provisions are not violated. No action shall be taken under this chapter to abate a public nuisance unless the officer shall have inspected or caused to be inspected the premises where the nuisance is alleged to exist and have satisfied himself that a nuisance does in fact exist. (Prior code ‘12.03(1).) “
While section 9.28.010 reads like it is focused on property nusciences, it is not. Section 9.24.010 defines nuisance. It reads, “9.24.020 Public nuisance defined. A public nuisance is a thing, act, occupation, condition or use of property which shall continue for such length of time as to: (a) Substantially annoy, injure or endanger the comfort, health, repose or safety of the public; (b) In any way render the public insecure in life or in the use of property; (c) Greatly offend the public morals or decency; (d) Unlawfully and substantially interfere with, obstruct or tend to obstruct or render dangerous for passage any street, alley, highway, navigable body of water or other public way or the use of public property. (Prior code ‘12.02(1).) “
I find it hard to imagine any circumstance that might exist not covered in these ordinances. It is true, I am not a lawyer or a member or law enforcement, but it seems to me like the City Council of Wausau as well as the Wausau Police Department have all the ordinances they could need at their fingertips. And they would not have to further exert pressure on law abiding citizens seeking to use the fine resources that is the 400 Block.
It is a very difficult situation indeed. You have some people who are part of the mental health system, along with some homeless folks, mixed in with some alcoholics. Enforcement is hard. But, the officers under Chief Hardel are highly trained professionals.
It seems to me that this is a question of enforcement of existing laws, and not a continued over reach by the City Council in regard to the use of public spaces in Wausau.
So, I stand CORRECTED in thinking this was just dumb enough, because it got dumber. I had half the story, and thought that half was dumb enough. But, it is worse. What entered the Health and Safety Committee was the proposed 4 pm admission for booze time. What came out of Health and Safety was a 24/7 ban on alcohol on the 400 Block except for permitted events.
This does PUNISH ALL CITIZENS for the acts of a few. This is amazingly short sighted, and frankly mean.