Cal Anderson Park is closed. The park has been closed, technically, for months. That hasn't stopped most residents from spending time in the park. Even four days after the Seattle Police Department arrested 25 people during a very public encampment sweep at the park, people are still out and about.
I crisscrossed Cal Anderson for around 20 minutes yesterday in the middle of a rainstorm so intense for Seattle it trended on Twitter. I saw at least ten people in Cal Anderson: One man jogged, another played fetch with his dog, a couple walked through huddled under an umbrella, some pasty white boys chatted under a tree. I watched a man do countless burpees in the middle of the field. A Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation vehicle was parked on the grass nearby, its lights flashing. No one came up to the man to tell him—or me for that matter—that the park was closed.
So, who exactly is allowed in the park?
In the aftermath of Friday's sweep, SPD and Parks stressed that Cal Anderson was closed and people needed to stay out. They put up the familiar big, red "PARK CLOSED" signs at the entrances. That night, SPD parked seven SUVs around the park with their sirens' blue lights illuminated. Still, the show of force hasn't stopped people from strolling through with their unleashed dogs or frolicking in the snow.
On Sunday, I ate a burger in Cal Anderson right near the fountain during a late afternoon sun break. At least 20 other people were in the park. About an hour later, SPD responded to complaints about a group of people playing a game of "Antifa soccer." SPD reportedly asked the group to leave and, when met with resistance, SPD arrested seven people.
So, what's the deal? Are you going to get arrested cutting across Cal Anderson on your way to Spice Box on Broadway? Or, is the park only closed for people in black bloc or without permanent shelter?
I asked SPD about the trespassing rules and what calls they received about groups gathered in the park. I also asked which calls they respond to and which calls they ignore, but an SPD spokesperson replied, curtly, that I needed to ask Parks and Rec these questions.
Throughout last week's sweep process, SPD maintained that the sweep was a Parks issue and that officers only swept the park to help Parks workers who felt unsafe. They lobbed my questions—questions very much related to SPD—to Parks.
The Parks representative is out on vacation, so I sent my ask to the mayor's office. Kamaria Hightower, a mayoral spokesperson, responded that "the park is closed" and that "Parks Ambassadors are in the park daily to remind individuals of the closure." She didn't say anything about trespassing or SPD arrests.
Hightower claimed three to four park "concierges" had been in the park since November 4 working from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to steer people away.
A Stranger reader sent me a recording of their own 911 call from Sunday reporting trespassing in the park just hours after SPD broke up the "Antifa soccer" game.
"Hi, I’d like to report trespassing at Cal Anderson," the reader begins. The dispatcher then asks them to describe who's in the park.
"A person was sitting with their dog running, four people are playing soccer," the person says, "it looks like people might be playing cricket. I called like 40 minutes ago and there’s been no response. I know police were responding to people trespassing in the park before because the park was closed, do you think I might get a response soon?"
The dispatcher said she didn't know what the response time was like. SPD didn't make more arrests on Sunday. It doesn't appear they made any arrests yesterday or disrupt any snowball fights.
SPD had come to Cal Anderson earlier to clear out dog walkers and other park-goers. But now dog walkers and black bloc soccer players seem to be enjoying the snowy scene together. Others are taking in an art show at Vermillion. pic.twitter.com/NHKXqA1OrR
— matt (@mmitgang) December 22, 2020
So, in the absence of any clear answers, I'd say you're probably fine hanging out in Cal Anderson as long as you're not wearing too much black. Then again, who knows what the rules are and who they apply to. The park is closed for everyone, but it's looking like it's only really closed for some.