Oh Say Can You Occupy?

Thomas MacMillan PhotosNorm Pattis traveled back centuries in Colonial history, took a theoretical turn as city parks director, and asked if he could force people driving Bethany to hold chopsticks in their hand and sing the National Anthem.

He did all that in federal court. To try to save New England’s last standing “Occupy” encampment.

Pattis (pictured at left), the attorney for the Occupy New Haven encampment that the city is trying to move off the upper Green, brought all that history, theater and role-playing to Judge Mark Kravitz’s U.S. District Court room on Church Street Wednesday afternoon.

The hearing lasted three hours. In the end Judge Kravitz extended the restraining order against the city until April 9 and said he plans to issue a decision before that time.

Pattis is asking Kravitz to allow the anti-corporate protesters to keep their tents on the Green despite a city order to vacate. The protesters have been there since October; it’s the last standing New England outpost of the Occupy Wall Street movement that arose last fall.

Pattis also wants Kravitz to send a second request to the state Supreme Court: to declare that the private self-perpetuating body that technically owns the Green—The Committee of the Proprietors of Common and Undivided Lands at New Haven, a.k.a. the “Proprietors of the Green”—shouldn’t be allowed to, under the state constitution. (Read about that debate, including an extensive defense of the arrangement, here.)

Following its establishment last October, the Occupy camp had coexisted cooperatively with the city. But for weeks now, city officials have been trying to remove the camp from the Green. On March 14, city efforts ran into a temporary two-week restraining order when Pattis convinced a federal judge to enjoin the city from moving against the camp.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Kravitz allowed Pattis to call to the stand the head proprietor, Yale Law School Professor and former Clinton Administration U.S. Solicitor General Drew Days (pictured).

The exchanges that followed were part Woody Allen movie (think 1971’s Bananas, and a general’s order that people must wear underwear on the outside of their clothes), part wild law school debate.

History Comes Alive

Pattis pursued a line of inquiry designed to draw out who exactly has the ultimate authority over the Green, and to highlight any confusion or disagreement between the city and the Proprietors on that subject.

The city government’s parks department runs the Green on a daily basis on behalf of the Proprietors. It approves permits for the Green along with city parks. (The city never made Occupy New Haven take out permits for its encampment.)

Days, wearing a charcoal suit and purple tie, took the stand shortly after 1 p.m. Some contentious examination ensued, punctuated by objections from the Proprietor’s attorney, Alfred Pavlis.

Pattis and Days went through the history of the Proprietors, which stretches back to the 17th Century. “I can’t call any other witnesses; they’ve been dead for centuries,” Pattis quipped.

“Who has the right to determine when the Green can be used?” Pattis asked.

“The city has its own regulations,” Days said. The Proprietors “provide guidance.”

What gives a private group the right to guide anybody about public use? Pattis asked.

The guidance “reflects the overall relationship between the Proprietors and the city,” Days said. It’s been that way for centuries, he said.

Since even before the parks department existed, when New Haven was a theocracy and you couldn’t own land unless you were a church member, Pattis said.

“This is ancient history,” interrupted Judge Kravitz.

“It’s alive today,” Pattis responded. The Green is held in a ownership arrangement that’s unique in the country, he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it in the history of the republic.”

The Proprietors’ guidance to the city is codified in a document, adopted by the proprietors in 1974 and amended in 1984, entitled “Regulations Governing the Use of the Green.” Does that document, or the Proprietors “guidance” have “the force of law”? Pattis asked Days.

“No,” Days said.

Yet, Pattis pointed out, article L of the regulations states that people can appeal to the Proprietors if the city denies them a permit to use the Green.

Days said no one has ever made such an appeal. He said the Proprietors confer on matters regarding the Green. “But it’s not a matter of high drama.”

“It is now,” Pattis said.

He showed Days a document with Title III, Chapter 19 of the city ordinances, which covers the regulating of city parks by the parks department.

The document does not mention Green, Pattis noted. Does that mean the Green is not a “public” park?

“No, it is not” a public park, Days responded.

Pattis: “This set of regulations pertains to public parks, does it not?”

Days: “It relates to parks listed here.”

Pattis: “And the Green is not listed there.”

Days: “That’s correct.”

Days conceded that Title III, Chapter 19 does not therefore apply to the Green. “So how can you delegate appellate rights to overrule city decisions?” Pattis asked.

He was making a larger argument: That a private body shouldn’t be making public rules.

He later channeled Woody Allen to underscore the point.

He pointed to his two fellow attorneys. Suppose the three of us declared ourselves the “Proprietors of the Common and Undivided Lands of Bethany”? Pattis asked. (He lives in that town.) Suppose “we passed a law that you have to hold chopsticks in your left hand” when you drive through town and that you have to sing the National Anthem.

“Would you feel obliged to do so?” Pattis asked.

No, Days responded, he would not feel obliged.

Endangered Trees

Days also answered questions from the Proprietors’ attorney, Alfred Pavlis, who asked Days if he has concerns about the condition of the Green because of the encampment.

Yes, Days responded.

The upper Green, where the 30-some tents are set up, is the more sensitive portion of the 16-acre park, he said. He said he worries about “long periods of pressure” on the tree roots, and “long-term ill effects” and damage to the Green.

Parks Director Pattis

Following Days, city parks chief Bob Levine took the stand at 2 p.m.

Under questioning from Pattis, Levine said the Green is the only property his department oversees that does not belong to the city. He said he looks to the 1973 document “Guidelines” drafted by the Proprietors for guidance on oversight of the Green. He said he does so because the regulations were “passed down by my predecessors.”

“When were they adopted” by the city? Judge Kravitz asked.

“I’m not aware of whether or not they were adopted by the city,” Levine said.

Then, contradicting Days testimony about the Green, Levine said, “We regard it as a public park.”

Pattis pointed out that although the city regulations covering parks refer specifically to Lighthouse Point and Edgerton Parks, along with athletic fields, golf courses, tennis courts, and swimming pools, they make no mention of the Green. So then how could these regulations apply to the Green?

“We take authority from the Regulations Governing the Use of the Green,” Levine said.

Pattis asked Levine to role-play with him. He told Levine: Pretend you just won the lottery and don’t have to work anymore and you’re orienting me to be the next parks director and I want to know how to know what to do with the Green.

“I’d have you start with the Regulations Governing the Use of the Green,” Levine said.

And what if I say, “What does a bunch of people claiming to be descendants of colonists” have to do with running the Green, Pattis said.

The authority to run the Green is given to us through the Regulations Governing the Use of the Green, Levine said.

“You mean to tell me that a private entity ... tells us what rules to apply to the Green?” Pattis said. “I don’t want to get sued by some wiseacre lawyer in town.” Can you show me where in the city ordinances it says the city has adopted the Regulations Governing the Use of the Green?

“No,” Levine said.

Pattis said he wouldn’t then be taking the job of parks director.

The Medium Is The Message

During a short recess, Occupy member and named plaintiff Ty Hailey said he was having a lot of fun. But it’s ultimately meaningless as far as he’s concerned, he said. “This a protest. This goes beyond permits.”

Back in the courtroom, occupier Danielle DiGirolamo (pictured above), another plaintiff, took the stand wearing high heels and a black cardigan over a cream-colored blouse and a short black skirt. She said Occupy is “taking back the land that belongs to all of us.” The camps themselves send a message that’s “way more effective that any pamphlet we could hand out.”

The tents refer to the tent cities of the Great Depression and “represent the struggles we are going through and the fact that we have nowhere else to go,” she said.

Occupier and plaintiff Ray Neal (pictured) took the standing wearing a red plaid shirt tucked into green work pants with a blue bandanna coming out of the back pocket.

He said the tents “are an example of where more and more folks in this world are ending up.”

Lawyers for the city and Proprietors had no questions for DiGirolamo or Neal.

“An Insult To The First Amendment”

The hearing closed with arguments from each of the five lawyers: three for the occupiers, and one each for the city and Proprietors.

Pattis summed up his case by invoking Max Weber who wrote about the “legitimacy” that allows a cop with a gun to force you to surrender your wallet where a bandit with a gun is forbidden.

Where is the legitimacy on the Green? he asked. The Proprietors have written regulations that the city enforces but has never formally adopted. That situation raises “substantial questions” of legitimacy, Pattis said.

Pattis’ colleague Kevin Smith argued that the city has not applied its supposed regulations without consideration of the “content” they’re applied to. That is, the city is specifically restricting Occupy because of the content of its message. “It’s like saying everybody else can come here except you.”

“This is not just an eviction of the occupiers, this is an eviction of the First Amendment,” Smith said.

If the city had objected to the message, “we would have been in there quickly, harshly as other cities have done,” said John Horvack, a private attorney representing the city.

As for questions of ownership, “It doesn’t matter who owns the Green” for the case at hand, he said. The city’s actions do not prevent Occupy from protesting elsewhere, he said. “They are going to continue forward with their message as they should.”

Sleeping on the green is not speech, he said. “It’s an insult to the First Amendment to say that it is.”

Killing grass and endangering trees convey “no message whatsoever.”

Horvack said the city has “governmental interests” to protect, including preventing crime (“These types of encampments are magnets for crime”), preventing fires, allowing fair access for all, and preventing occupations from taking over the Green entirely.

Judge Kravitz interrupted with a question: Can people appeal to the proprietors if the city denies them a permit to use the Green?

“I don’t know the answer to that,” Horvack said. “That’s a good question.”

Pattis got the final word, and again questioned why a private self-perpetuating body should be allowed to tell people what to do in what is essentially a public space. “This is not a theocracy. It’s not a plantation. It’s a republic.”

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posted by: streever on March 28, 2012  1:24pm

The vision quest/return the land to native peoples lost me, I’ll admit—yes it was ridiculous.

You know what though? I can think anything is ridiculous—such as abortion protesters—but still understand AND SUPPORT the right to protest.

Is camping on the green a protest?

I don’t know, but I do think that Occupy deserves their day in court to settle the question.

I’m uncomfortable making a personal decision that any behavior (including one I’m finding a bit silly) does or doesn’t pass the litmus test of protest.

I’d like to see a judicial ruling on this, referencing other relevant cases. I’m sure there are legal precedents for both the city and Occupy, and it would be good to see this treated in accordance with those decisions.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on March 28, 2012  2:15pm

I’m not entirely sure how their ownership of the land could be considered illegal.  As far as I can tell (and I am not a lawyer), the group technically owns the land (and therefore it is not public land), but allows the city the use of it.  If anything, the group could just take it back and kick everybody off.  Though I can’t imagine the backlash from such a thing.

I support some of the ideals of ONH, but at this point, they’re mostly just costing the city thousands of dollars and accomplishing very little.

posted by: robn on March 28, 2012  4:33pm

Attorney Pattis gave out Halloween candy every year but didn’t do it this year! Wahhhh! I think I’ll sue…or maybe camp out in his front porch and never leave.

posted by: meta on March 28, 2012  4:52pm

How long does Occupy expect to stay? Do they intend to colonize the Green and become a permanent encampment? Inhabiting a park meant for the enjoyment of all is not a protest, it’s selfish.

posted by: hrsn on March 28, 2012  5:01pm

Proprietors of Common and Undivided Lands of Bethany? Puuhleez. Perhaps if Mr. Pattis had a grant charter for all of Bethany, with the power to divide and sell off parcels, he could call himself that. Otherwise, he’s just stealing property. The Proprietors of the Green do have that grant charter. Case closed.

posted by: BornAndRaised on March 28, 2012  8:19pm

Have those proprietors been patient and lenient enough! Is there a set rule book or regulations for the use of THEIR property?  Does it include people “squatting on THEIR property?  Does it include littering, loitering, raping and assaulting on THEIR property?  A lawyer representing them?  Camp out on his lawn!  He is there to make a name for himself which I in my opinion think is quite obvious!  Why not pick up your trash and relocate on his front lawn.  OH!!! Would that be a different story!

posted by: beyonddiscussion on March 28, 2012  11:07pm

Bottomline: It’s a city park, maintained and run by the city. I like the Proprietors. It’s a figurehead body that has never even reviewed a permit for the Green. It’s like the Queen of England, no power just a quaint historical remnant. However, the Occupy Camp is now a blight at the center of our city. It cannot be there forever. In my opinion, the city has been very, very lenient with them but it’s time for them to go. Does anyone have the right to make a permanent encampment on land that belongs to all of us? I look forward to playing frisbee and soccer again on the Upper Green! Soon.

posted by: Dean Moriarty on March 29, 2012  1:57am

Given the current economic condition that New Haven has been dealing with I find it a travesty that the City is in the position of defending itself to parties that they’ve jumped through hoops to placate. This all costs money, and to the very people that this encampment claims they’re “helping”. I’m incensed that I’m sending a $5000.00 check to the City every year, that’s now partly going to legal fees, when it should be going to create programs for the citizens here who need it.  After school programs, youth leagues, maintenance for the City’s public pools (a big summertime concern), shelters, food banks, etc. Get my point? Aren’t those concerns that ONH claims to support? Or does that all get thrown under the bus for their own self-serving goals?  ONH is causing more harm, rather than realizing whatever the idealized dream it is they’re aiming for.  I’ve not liked this administration for the twenty years they’ve held office. In this instance, I support them 100%.  They’ve gone out of their way to accommodate all this, in contrast to the rest of the country, and this is what ONH does in return? National Occupy movement had great potential and ideals. Unfortunately, ONH has chosen to make their stand by pissing off the locals, and believing that their real accomplishment is to live on the New Haven Green, as if that was something that was going to change the world. Really sad.

posted by: robn on March 29, 2012  8:47am

I like the kindof “J Peterman Catalog” feel of this story.

“Days, wearing a charcoal suit and purple tie,...”

“...Danielle DiGirolamo .... wearing high heels and a black cardigan over a cream-colored blouse and a short black skirt.”

“Ray Neal…wearing a red plaid shirt tucked into green work pants with a blue bandanna coming out of the back pocket.”

posted by: streever on March 29, 2012  8:57am

Ah, the high cost of freedom.

I think protest is a basic right which we shouldn’t deny anyone, but don’t know if this counts as a constitutional form of protest.

What are the judicial standards for protest?

If the City has a clear, transparent, and fair written policy that allows them to remove protesters from the green without violating constitutional rights, then I support them in doing so.

If they do not, they should develop one before making any further moves.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

I still like the compromise floated by Kurtz: a 24/7 solitary tent to serve as a reminder, with only a few people in it, handing out information/pamphlets.

Has this compromise been discussed?

posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 29, 2012  9:06am

I have seen a few more tents pop up this week.

If the judge (slim chance) does say they can stay. How many more tents will pop up?

When I went down and suggested why are you not marching for the tax payers of New Haven they shrugged it off because the city was paying for the dumpster and toilets and letting them stay…..NEWS FLASH..the people of New Haven paid for that! So now the have ostracized the tax pays of the city.

They tried to target students by protesting the cost of college. Thinking that would get great support because after all we are a college town…they did not really jump on board because they had there hands full with getting the diploma they were paying for.

So now no students, no taxpayers. Nonprofits, well the 80,000 that this has cost so far will come from funds they may have received.

5 months now a few marchs around the green and hold general Assembly meetings. But at the most you just hung out on the green. ohh you say but people take pictures of us! Oh ok there ya go.

now you want to become one with the earth?? sovereign nation? whats next? This is starting to give the 99% movement a bad name.

posted by: streever on March 29, 2012  9:43am

I just realized something, and it isn’t an endorsement for or against anyone—but a related issue.

If the Green IS NOT a public park, why is the city involved at all?

The proprietors would have the right to simply call police/private security and remove anyone, wouldn’t they?

Why does the City currently police the Green?

posted by: HhE on March 29, 2012  9:45am

This is just great:  a lawyer with an ego and a group that started off well but has devolved into a selfish bunch are using the courts to stick it to a financially strapped city that has bent over backwards to accommodate them. 

Exactly how is this sticking it to the 1%?  Last I looked, New Haven has a preponderance of under class residents.  Can anyone name one resident (other than perhaps a handful of Yale students) who belong to the 1%?

(If anyone should like to know what Yale thinks of ONH, I asked a Vice President yesterday on the train platform, and I got a snort and a roll of the eyes in response.  So ONH is hardly the great thorn in the Universities side that some people think they are.  More of a petty annoyance and a source of bemusement.)

Don’t think the courts or lawyers really care.  The American Bar Association is the worlds most powerful guild.  The judges and lawyers are all making bank, so why should they care?  (Drew Davis aside, of course.)

Enough already.  Go!

posted by: Curious on March 29, 2012  9:52am

These assertions that the squalid tents on the Green are meant to represent conditions during the Depression or of the poor are complete bull.  Those claims were not made until Pattis started representing this group, it’s obvious that he is coaching them to say this.

Get these people off the Green.  The grass isn’t dead, it’s gone.

posted by: Stan Muzyk on March 29, 2012  10:00am

Where do these people take a bath, and get their laundry done?  New Haven taxpayers, appear to be taking a beating, by already paying for their portable toilet facilities, trash and cleanup expenses, and elevated police calls—in addition to massive legal fees.  In all fairness, shouldn’t the occupiers be reimbursing some of this cost to the City of New Haven—especially in our depressed economy?

posted by: Wakeupsleepyheads on March 29, 2012  10:04am

well if things weren’t such an obvious mess and there wasn’t so much deceit and greed going on decimating the country, then there would be no need to protest. Maybe the question all of you should be asking yourselves is why are you so complacent?

posted by: Wakeupsleepyheads on March 29, 2012  10:07am

@cedarhillresident, is that why they REQUIRED us to come up with $1000 to pay for port-o-potties, that should be provided for public use anyway, but have found a way to extort funds to cover it?

posted by: Dan,Lauren, Abby and Connor on March 29, 2012  10:10am

These fine people part of the 99% support you, and not wall street bankers and hedge fund managers.

posted by: William Kurtz on March 29, 2012  10:33am

Better than Law & Order. If nothing else, Pattis’ suit is interesting just for shining some light on the mysterious relationship between the Proprietors, the city government, the citizens, and the Green.

The Proprietors’ stewardship of the Green seems benign enough and there seems to be no reason to doubt their current sincerity about holding it ‘in trust’ for the citizens of New Haven, but that doesn’t mean the question of real ownership shouldn’t be thoroughly examined, resting, as it does, on the 1723 act of the (then-colonial) assembly.

The 1805 meeting of proprietors and their petition to the 1810 Assembly (and its resolution) seem to be concerned with protecting the rights of people still living or their identifiable descendants. That doesn’t seem like a concern anymore.

What does ‘ownership’ mean for the committee of proprietors? Do they pay property tax? Buy insurance? If I fall and break my leg on a piece of cracked sidewalk, are they individually liable? What risks associated with ‘ownership’ do the proprietors assume? What weight do centuries-old acts and agreements have, especially when they predate the Constitutions of both the country and the state? These are actual questions, not rhetorical ones.

The vision quest stuff is pretty silly, but you could make an intellectual and moral case (if not a legal one) that people of Native American descent have an ownership claim as legitimate as the self-perpetuating committee.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 29, 2012  10:41am


Who do you think was paying for it?? city hall? the 1%? NO! the struggling taxpayers of this city.  Sad. And now we get to pay for the lawyers for this crap. THANKs

posted by: FairHavenRes on March 29, 2012  10:54am

I am not an attorney.  However I am a landlord and it seems like the easiest thing to do would be treat this like a landlord/tenant case.  If the Green is indeed not owned by the City but is run by a private entity, can’t the Proprietors of the Green issue a Notice to Quit and follow standard court procedures for evicting a tenant?  It’s not that long of a process and it seems like a valid method to use in this particular case.

posted by: robn on March 29, 2012  11:51am

I disagree that the Proprietorship is strange or unique. How hard is it to understand that the Green is private land held in trust by a non-profit which grants use to the city in return for upkeep?

posted by: HhE on March 29, 2012  12:11pm

Dan,Lauren, Abby and Connor, I do not take your meaning.  Could you please clarify?  Thanks.

Streever (the heart and conscience of NHI posts) and William Kurtz, the issue I take with everyone getting a day in court and interesting cases, is that we are obliged to pay for all of this.  Now, if we had English Rule (loser pays), that would be something else all together.  Consider my own divorce.  In order to get overnight visitation, I had to spend about $15k in legal fees.  Out children’s mother did not want to let me be a father, and tried to leverage a full time nanny out of this.  She ignored to advise of a judge during a pre-hearing, and so after two days in court, I got one night a week overnight, and no nanny.  Yet there was no real cost to her since I will be paying her lawyer directly (through the terms of a settlement or decree) or indirectly through moneys given to her from a settlement or trial. 

Which brings me to Wakeupsleepyheads et. al.  Your protest stopped being effective months ago.  Now you are just burning up limited resources the city of New Haven has that would be better spent helping its underclass, or taxing what remains of its middle class less. 

I get that you do not have an exit strategy, and it is hard to let go of something that one has spent so much on, but is time to go.  So let me give you an out.  Put your heads together and come up with a statement like “ONH has decided to refocus its efforts through a new form of protest.  We will be returning the Green to all of the 99%, and hope to establish an information kiosk or store front near by.  We regret any harm we have caused.  Our intentions were always good, and we hope we can continue to draw attention to the inequities and injustices of our system.”

As far as returning the land to native peoples; would only 100% Native American be allowed to stay, or would there be some minimum percentage?  Would the United Kingdom be obliged to accept me after sixteen generations?  What happened to the indigenous population was frightfully wrong, but it also was a long time ago.

posted by: Curious on March 29, 2012  12:12pm

Why doesn’t the city just start inspecting this camp like they should have been all along?

Fire inspections, health inspections…inspect the food being served, the straw-stuffed pallets that are fire hazards, the use of heaters and generators.  All that.

Are local restaurants and churches still providing free food?

posted by: anonymous on March 29, 2012  12:21pm

The Green is clearly a public park, by common law.

Nobody cares what the State said 200 years ago.

posted by: robn on March 29, 2012  12:32pm

Oh yeah and as far as precedent goes, it’s well established in many states that private landowners may grant rights of public use to their lands but still retain ownership; hunting being a very obvious example. For instance:

From the Michigan department of Natural Resources
“Various privately owned lands have had their hunting rights purchased, gifted or reserved by the State of Michigan. These lands are open to public hunting and trapping.”


From the Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife

Currently, the WDFW private lands access program has over 600 landowner cooperators and over one million acres of private land under agreement in eastern and western Washington.


posted by: Babz Rawls Ivy on March 29, 2012  1:23pm

How can we not look at this and think WOW how fabulous we can all bear witness to how our due process works! This is what we sell to the rest of the world.  This is what we say democracy is.  This is what we want other folks the world over to get and participate in. 

It is not frivolous or ridiculous it is easy to follow and easy to digest democracy.  This ought to have been a field trip for New Haven public schools.  This is living breathing civics (do we even teach civics any more?)

Cheers to Norm Pattis… modern day freedom fighter!

posted by: NH Native on March 29, 2012  2:54pm

I like robn’s point about the Proprietors owning the Green and the City keeping it up. Wasn’t there an article in the past two weeks that stated that the Proprietors had assets of approximately $45,000? That might not even cover one full-time staff member’s salary and benefits to care for the Green, let alone the security they would need to employ. It has been a mutually-beneficial arrangement for centuries. I would think that we should all be grateful that the Proprietors have continued to allow us to use their private land for our public enjoyment. The fact is, the Proprietors want the tents gone. The City wants the tents gone (and from most of what I see here and in conversations I’m having/hearing, the City’s taxpayers want the tents gone). What does the relationship matter between the two if the actual owners want them out?

It’s sad about the trees and the dead grass, but I’m surprised no one has mentioned that there are at least 5,000 people buried under the Green. Who knows what damage sustained camping on a burial site can do? Not to mention the disrespect for a “sacred space.” The Green is also a National Historic Landmark. Doesn’t that automatically give it some protection from destructive usage?

More questions: wasn’t there a period in the 1950s or 1960s when tents were erected on the Green? Didn’t they call it Shanty-Town? I’m guessing the First Amendment issue wasn’t in play, but could this be a precedent for the City/Proprietors to remove structures from the Green? Anyone remember/know what happened?

posted by: Wakeupsleepyheads on March 29, 2012  3:05pm

anonymous on March 29, 2012 12:21pm

“The Green is clearly a public park, by common law.

Nobody cares what the State said 200 years ago.”

Maybe we should have the same attitude about the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution and the Bill of Rights too then since they were written over 200 yrs ago….oh that’s right it already is with NDAA/EEA/HR347/NDRP, don’t know what those are?? Google ‘em!

posted by: Curious on March 29, 2012  3:23pm

Robn, hunting is a very different matter.  Just because land is open to hunting, doesn’t mean anyone can hunt on it.  You still need to have a license, and have to petition for access to those lands.  Here in CT, hunters either get written permission from the landowner, or win access through a lottery run by the state. 

It’s much more regulated than what’s happening on the Green, or other parks.

posted by: Curious on March 29, 2012  3:33pm

Babz, there are far better examples of civic involvement and democracy than Occupy New Haven.

ONH started out as a protest against Wall Street.  Then it became a protest against everything.  Recently, it’s been expanded to be a protest about library hours not being long enough, city employee salaries being too high, and most recently, turning the Green over to Native American tribes.

If you follow the narrative, Occupy New Haven is not about protesting anything, it’s about an ever-changing excuse for a select group of people to camp out on the Green at taxpayer expense. 

ONH is slacktivism at it’s best.

NH Native, there are federal regulations against this kind of eyesore on the Green as a national historic place, but the federal government does not enforce those polices.

posted by: robn on March 29, 2012  4:03pm


The manner of public access to private land is irrelevant. What’s relevant is that ownership isn’t ceded by the owners’ grant of access to the public via a govt entity.

posted by: William Kurtz on March 29, 2012  4:05pm

How hard is it to understand that ownership comes not only with rights and privileges, but responsibilities and risks–none of which the proprietors seem to be currently absorbing?

Isn’t New Haven in the middle of a property tax crisis? What’s the assessed value of 16 acres of prime downtown real estate? With $45,000 in assets, I imagine the Knights Templar or Illuminati or whoever would soon find themselves in foreclosure.

Like I said earlier, I do believe their role is benign (and I’m not even necessarily suggesting it should change) but NH Native’s comment (“I would think that we should all be grateful that the Proprietors have continued to allow us to use their private land for our public enjoyment”) illustrates its perverse side.

Are there limits to this ‘ownership?’ Can the proprietors sell naming rights to the Green?  Can they charge a toll on the sidewalk? If they can neither use it, sell it, nor profit from it, what does it mean to ‘own it’?

Is the exact nature of the agreement between the proprietors and the city government written down somewhere? What are its precise terms? When does it expire? Who can settle disputes about it?

Anyone else holding title to a piece of land for 400 years would have run up against the various systems that are designed to weaken dynastic power in this country, like estate taxes. But not this self-perpetuating 5 member panel?

It’s “unique” in Mayor DeStefano’shttp://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/the_proprietors/ words, at least.

posted by: OhHum on March 29, 2012  4:17pm

OK, here’s the deal. The Proprietors deed the Green to the City. His Honor, sells the property to Yale (oh yes they would), let’s say for 200 million.The City deficit is gone and the city has a surplus. Yale builds a beautiful 12 foot stone fence (gated of course) around the green. Not much later, Yale builds a wonderful new School of Management on their new property. The School of Management teaches people how to become one of the 1%. What happened to ONH? They’re eating Chinese with chopsticks at some Attorney’s house in Bethany.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 29, 2012  4:37pm

slacktivism :) love it!

posted by: robn on March 29, 2012  4:38pm


I guarantee you that I’d be the first person in line screaming for Eminent Domain if the Proprietors decided to either rigidly limit access to the Green or develop it (of course the city would have to figure out a way to pay fair market value for the property, but neither the closure nor the ED would ever happen; its an academic tangent I won’t head off on.) The Proprietors aren’t going to harm the Green because their mission statement (and their non-taxable status) is about preserving the Green for public enjoyment. They won’t be taxed because, like all other non-profits which provide a public benefit, all of their profits (in this case none) are rolled back into the business of actualizing their mission.

Round and round we go.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 29, 2012  4:42pm

William Kurtz
point taken but

...”buried just six feet below the surface are the remains of somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people.

posted by: nocheez on March 29, 2012  5:04pm

I have to laugh at folks calling the Occupy’ers free loaders. Please get educated on this issue. First off some occupy’ers actually have homes, apartments. Some do not and of course the Occupy’ers are taking on helping the homeless that were there prior to Occupy. Yes the crime, homelessness, drug use was all there prior, just hidden so you could feel better about your apathy. Do we have this straight now? The conditions in these tents over winter, or any season are incredibly difficult. I would like to see how long many of the folks calling the Occupy’ers freeloaders etc; would last under these conditions.  You people do not have the slightest idea of the commitment it takes to live this way to stand up for an idea.  The problem is obviously none of you have ever spoken in depth with Occupy’ers to know what these ideas are and actually how important these ideas are, and how they are beneficial to you. It’s time to take drastic measures and become involved in real horizontal democracy.  Instead of complaining about Occupy, who are truly not a problem for the green or the city, get down there and become involved in a group that will make changes. You can even start your own work group. That is what Occupy is about.

posted by: William Kurtz on March 29, 2012  6:01pm

The interesting academic point is not whether development or closure would happen–I agree the possibility is exceptionally remote–or whether ONH should be allowed to stay, it’s the role the private body is playing in the decision, and the question of the influence they have the nominal power to exert over what is for all intents and purposes a public square.

“The Proprietors aren’t going to harm the Green because their mission statement (and their non-taxable status) is about preserving the Green for public enjoyment. ” This is circular reasoning, akin to saying, “I didn’t commit the crime because I’m not the kind of person that commits crimes.”

Again, I don’t really doubt their sincere commitment to their mission and their role as stewards, but that doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate to scrutinize it.

posted by: HenryCT on March 29, 2012  9:06pm

The occupiers would not be on the Green if the 1% weren’t sucking up all the resources of society. The city would not have budget deficits if it weren’t sending $71 million a year to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. If we want our Green free of tents and occupiers, the most effective way is to end the grip of the corporate and financial institutions and the Pentagon on our whole society. The grass would grow, the occupiers would have decent housing and the Green’s neighbor Yale would be educating students to care for our world, the community and the environment rather than encouraging them to become one percenters. As long as the occupiers are visibly on the Green, they constantly remind us that the system is rigged. For some that is an unpleasant reminder.

posted by: Icarus on March 30, 2012  8:22am


“The city would not have budget deficits if it weren’t sending $71 million a year to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq”

Out of curiosity how did you arrive at this number?

posted by: robn on March 30, 2012  9:00am


You base your argument on a faulty premise; that the Green is, ”for all intents and purposes a public square.” We’re not playing Peek-a-boo. Just because you didn’t know that publically accessible land was privately owned doesn’t mean that the ownership doesn’t exist. It’s been codified by 375 years of practice and various laws.

My argument may seem circular to you but let me explain why it isn’t. The Proprietors couldn’t practically withdraw the land from public use because (besides defaulting on their own mission which is codified by state law) they would cease to be a non-profit and would be on the hook for property taxes that they couldn’t afford. Using First Niagara Bank and the Financial Center as an example (their land is worth on average $7M/acre) the Green is 16 acres so if they lost their non-profit status, the Proprietors would be on the hook for $4.3M of annual taxes. And NO, ANONYMOUS, I don’t know if the state provides PILOT payments for the green but I sincerely doubt it because its enjoyed by the public.

posted by: Stan Muzyk on March 30, 2012  10:08am

nocheez:  Apparently, you are not a New Haven taxpayer, or you would be probably be calling Occupier’s by “the freeloaders tag” you apparently disdain.  I appears that you are very supportive, and understanding— “when it’s no money out of your pocket.”

posted by: NH Native on March 30, 2012  10:22am

Nocheez, HenryCT,

Occupy’s ideas have broad appeal. People in this country are FURIOUS with the way things are and Occupy has done a great thing in calling attention to the issues. It is now time to ACT instead of sitting around on the Green, daring people to defy your right to be there. That does NOTHING. I work downtown, take my lunch-break on or near the Green, and haven’t seen ONH outside their campsite. It’s been MONTHS since ONH stood outside my building and actually protested the businesses inside.

The disparities in this country are sickening. ONH has valiantly highlighted them in our very own city. But now what? Does it stop there, or does ONH actually want to CHANGE the way things are?

If the latter, then get organized, get a plan, and get out there. Go into the neighborhoods and start spreading your message. Recruit volunteers to your cause and start raising money. You found a civic-minded lawyer to represent you - there are others with a strong social conscience who would join you if you had a coherent and realistic plan in place. I guarantee you will receive more support in this City and perhaps be a model for other Occupy movements in other cities that have been floundering also.

posted by: nocheez on March 30, 2012  10:38am

Stan, actually I have given food, water, clothing, blankets, batteries, and cash equalling a few hundred dollars.  So I think your measly 40 cents is worth backing a movement that seeks a better community for all, including you. A large part of your 40 cents didn’tneed to be spent because extra police being sent to watch a peace movement is rather idiotic. And then when a crime actually happens and an Occupy’ers reports it they complain, lol. By the way, how much does the park and rec spend to keep the grass that isn’t native to our country growing and in order?  Bet it’s way more than 40 cents out of your pocket. Maybe you should be concerned with real issues like Yale not paying hundreds of millions in taxes on their land. This effects you dramatically.

posted by: Stan Muzyk on March 30, 2012  11:21am

HenryCt:  You say “As long as the occupiers are visible on the Green, they constantanly remind us that our system is rigged.”  However,  the 1% you are opposed to—AREN’T WATCHING IT!

It appears DISGRACEFUL, to most of the people who have to watch it!  Has common sense disapeared?

posted by: nocheez on March 30, 2012  11:57am

Stan, Occupy being on the green is a reminder. What is unfortunate is people view it the wrong way. They attack people who give up their time to protest the massive injustice in this country along with the homeless who have always been on the green, but who instead want to pretend they aren’t Folks should instead attack the folks who create situations that put Americans in desperation. The green is one small part of Occupy, and if you had read the major article on Occupy’s accomplishments that came out a week or so ago you would see how their message resonates and how much they have actually done. It’s only the beginning. Why not join, you know the injustice exists.  Take your bowling night and instead become active, make your own work group and have your voice heard.  Occupy will respect your voice more than your so called representatives who laugh at your vote ever could.

posted by: Curious on March 30, 2012  12:00pm

NH Native hits it spot-on.

Occupy New Haven, you are not doing anything, anything at all, apart from serving your own needs.  “Being visible” doesn’t accomplish change.

If the members of ONH marched out from their campsite every morning and walked around town with protest signs, or protested businesses for specific reasons, or did ANYTHING other than around, I would support them.

Squatting in a hovel on public land does not bring about social change.
Rosa Parks brought about social change.
Martin Luther King Jr. brought about social change.
Occupy New Haven just takes up space.

posted by: nocheez on March 30, 2012  12:06pm

@NH Native:  I think Occupy staying there does something. First off they are feeding the homeless. These same homeless that prefer staying in these tents instead of going to a shelter. Ever wonder why?  They also hold General Assemblies to not only get involved, but to show folks we can do things better via horizontal democracy.  They are also creating a community vibe and teaching people how to find news ways of sustainability. This with almost zero resources. There are teach ins on many subjects. Imagine if the resources were available? People have been complaining about more police activity as of late. Guess why?  The Occupy’ers are actually doing part of the New Haven Police forces job, they are making the calls on criminal activity and calling for assistance for the sick, injured, etc. These people were there prior but who helped them?

posted by: nocheez on March 30, 2012  12:47pm

@Curious:  I think my last two posts prove your assumption quite incorrect. Hoovervilles were one aspect of what makes change.  Check your history. Also, you put names forth, also one small part of change because the work that went on by millions of people behind those names was massive and Occupy is also involved heavily in those types of actions. In reality it is ridiculous to not let Occupy run it’s course. They take up a very small part of the green, cost incredibly little, give refuge for homeless, contact the police when crimes are committed etc.  I mean really, people are worried about this little patch of grass? How trivial and superficial can people be?

posted by: Stan Muzyk on March 31, 2012  10:00am

The Occupiers movement in New Haven is basically done. Their lawyer, Norm Pettis said:  “There ar no utopias.  And this is a movement and group of people, who are bound together by dissent, but they all don’t agree what they are dissenting about.”

Apparently, this group agrees to disagree.

posted by: Stan Muzyk on March 31, 2012  2:09pm

If the Occupy movement on the
Green was supposed to represent Democracy in action—it didn’t achieve it’s premise.

posted by: nocheez on April 1, 2012  12:50am

Stan, I think your last two posts have nothing to do with anything I stated, and really, they don’t make any sense, lol.

posted by: Stan Muzyk on April 1, 2012  9:56am

nocheez:  You can overlook the truth—and believe ANYTHING—you want to believe, but please speak for yourself.

posted by: Dean Moriarty on April 2, 2012  1:12am

I’ve really grown tired of the elitist attitude from ONH. While claiming to represent the public voice and the 99% (and BTW, time to retire that, it’s played it’s course)any opposing views are met with derision. Views that don’t fit their ideology “don’t make any sense”?  You can call that democracy with a straight face? Meet the new boss…

posted by: William Kurtz on April 2, 2012  8:15am

I knew that, as I thought everyone did, even if it does seem to have come as a surprise to Attorney Pattis. “For all intents and purposes” in the sense of how it’s been used on a daily basis, for several hundred years.

The problem with the private property argument is that it allows an end-run around the larger freedom of speech or freedom of assembly issues.

Either ONH is expression protected under the first amendment, or it isn’t.

If it is, the municipal government has limited power to stifle it. Appealing to a small group of private citizens to exercise the authority granted to them under an arcane series of centuries-old legal actions seems a little sketchy, as the kids say.

If it’s not, then there’s still the matter of the city government and the proprietors giving express permission, including providing services (toilets, trash removal, etc.) to the occupiers. To the best of my knowledge, no end date for the residency of the occupiers was established and it seems that getting them off the Green is not as simple as just telling them to leave.

Either way, since they’ve chosen to fight the eviction, the court is the proper place to do it. The precedents that are set might matter down the line.

Personally, I think this is the wrong fight. The tide of public opinion has pretty clearly turned against living on the Green and that issue is overshadowing the already-murky specific goals of the Occupy movement. The demands that were read by the camera-ready ‘occupiers’ seem hastily formed in the fact of imminent eviction and some of them are ridiculous.

I’ll repeat my compromise suggestion, for what it’s worth: one structure–tent, kiosk, booth, whatever–on the Green that can be ‘occupied’ 24 hours a day. Someone else suggested that might even be expressly legal already which would save everyone some time, money, and aggravation.

posted by: nocheez on April 2, 2012  10:42am

@Dean - That’s funny, I didn’t know ONH had a boss? What views?  I can tell you the General Assemblies and the camp have always been run via horizontal democracy and to pass a proposal it needs to reach 90 percent consensus. In fact I have never seen it run otherwise. I think you don’t understand. Any problems in the camp now have come from the failure of City programs/institutions to help the homeless and also to defend the camp from criminals who attack the camp. Occupy has done everything to work them into the camp and it has been very hard for the Occupy’ers that live on the site.  Most of you folks understand this from outside. You are really missing a lot of information. If you really got to chat with one of the Occupy’ers who are there for the original reasons, the movement itself,  you would think very differently.

posted by: OhHum on April 2, 2012  11:07am

The booth, tent kiosk idea is a slippery slope. Every group with ‘cause’ would petition to have a tent, kiosk or booth on the green. The green would be forested with a mosaic of ugly structures. Then of course the proprietors would be put in a position of who’s 1st amendment rights are the most important.
Other than the three churches on the green there should not be any further structures erected.
If your point can’t be made with a rally or several rallies on the green. Then perhaps you should find alternatives means (other than occupying)to make the point.

posted by: Curious on April 2, 2012  11:29am

The Register has a good piece on how Occupy is falling apart in New Haven. 

Apparently long-time organizers/motivators Aubin, Heltke, and “Doomsday” have all moved on from the camp.


New Haven really needs to step up public health and fire inspections on the camp.

posted by: nocheez on April 2, 2012  1:34pm

@Curious,  yes some folks have left.  What has happened is the city of New Haven has failed the homeless and the police are not doing their job. What you don’t get is the criminal acts on the green happen anyway, either on the green or somewhere else.  The Occupy’ers have become a target.  This is not Occupy’s fault. If Occupy leaves this will not end the crime, it will only allow people who don’t like to admit we have a failed system to pretend the problems don’t exist.  A cowardly way to be.

posted by: Curious on April 2, 2012  2:08pm

Cowardly is sitting around in a tent and telling everyone, including yourself, that you’re changing the world.

Try something like this, and I’ll respect you.


NHI, if you don’t like this comment, you shouldn’t have published nocheez’s.

posted by: Dean Moriarty on April 3, 2012  12:08am

Well, I’m happy nocheez found my comment “funny”. That exactly references my point. Any opposing thoughts, be they intelligent or voiced out of frustration are summarily dismissed, ridiculed or laughed at. I was told I know less than nothing about current news when I attempted a dialogue. So much for an open forum.

Horizontal democracy and a 90% consensus? This is from ONH’s FB page: “I think are (sic) biggest issue was that we let anybody in”.  Democracy in action.

“If you really got to chat with one of the Occupy’ers (sic) who are there for the original reasons, the movement itself,  you would think very differently.”  Again, I have. It was pretty much a ridiculous conversation, punctuated by insults. Ridiculous part? I was informed that ONH was responsible for the zero murder rate in NH in the first two months of the year.  Insulting part? I was told that my parents (both deceased) must be really proud of me for my views. Nice way to build a movement.

Finally, problems in the camp now are caused by the City’s failure? Wow.  Statements like that are grasping at straws that are fast disappearing.

Ms. Lopez’s letter is VERY telling.

IMO? Your tents are collapsing, your idealism has completely lost it’s original focus (it’s NOT about the Green) and you’ve (ONH) distanced yourselves from the original goal of the bigger movement.

It’s all over now, baby blue…

posted by: nocheez on April 3, 2012  4:09pm

@Dean, Mrs Lopez was a very negative force and was removed from the camp early on for very good reasons. I will refrain from giving particulars, but I really suggest not putting much into what she states because it is for all the wrongs reasons. The ideas aren’t collapsing at all in fact numerous work groups continue to work on important issues in many ways.  The camp was one part, a symbol, the movement goes on no matter and in fact will grow very large this spring and summer. As far as what was said to you, I have no idea who you spoke to or what you said. I do not know your views but I can say I have never heard one of the folks who are seriously in the movement ever speak this way.