Thursday, September 08, 2005

Stamford Cyclist Keeps Pushing to Increase Public Access to Greenwich Point, to the Discomfort of Greenwich Officials

The 75-year-old Stamford man who was arrested earlier this summer for riding his bike into Greenwich Point Park without paying the $10 entrance fee is making a real pain-in-the-butt of himself to Greenwich officials, It's fun to watch.

First, he insisted on going to trial rather than simply paying the $92 that the town wanted to fine him. The prosecutor considered the cost of a trial (and probably the bad publicity that would accompany it), thought better of it, and dropped the charges. The next day the man, whose name is Paul Kempner, rode his bike into the park again and received a warning, but no ticket, from two cops.

Then he and his attorney, Joseph Bainton, met with a handful of Greenwich officials to try to work out a solution. The Greenwich Time account makes it sound as if the meeting was less than a success:

Bainton, a Manhattan-based attorney, said he told Town Administrator Ed Gomeau, Town Attorney John Wayne Fox and Parks Superintendent Joseph Siciliano that the town's policy violated the 2001 court rulings striking down the town's residents-only access policy.

The rulings overturned a lower court decision from 2000 that upheld the town's residents-only policy -- finding that the towns' parks are held in trust for all state residents. Based on this, Bainton said, the town's policy of different fees for out-of towners and residents is unconstitutional.

"The price should be completely level for all citizens of the state of Connecticut," Bainton said. "If you charge a resident $25 for a seasonal pass and a nonresident $70 a week, doesn't that seem like discrimination?"

Kempner insists that he is going to keep riding his bike in and forcing them to arrest him. Greenwich's First Selectman, Jim Lash, insists that the town will do just that. Bainton says prosecutors can't keep dropping the charges and that if Kempner is arrested, they are going to be in the uncomfortable position of having to go ahead with a trial, at which Greenwich's public access rules could be declared unconstitutional.

All I know about Jim Lash is what I read in the paper, but he seems like a pretty weak and defensive leader. He did little back in April, when three environmentalists were arrested in Greenwich for protesting, in clear violation of their First Amendment rights (the charges were dropped). He presided over a bad decision by the Town's recreation department to kill nuisance Canada geese when other choices were available (and decision the town reversed after people protested).

It's not even clear from the Greenwich Time story if Lash was at the meeting with Kempner. Kempner and his attorney seemed to be looking for a compromise. Lash's only response was that they should go to the recreation commission meetings and work something out with it.

Here's a better suggestion: How about if Kempner and Lash (with the Board of Selectmen) work out an agreement and take it to the rec commission together?

Here's what I suggest: Make Greenwich Point free for bikers and pedestrians. Lower the entrance fee for out-of-towners to something reasonable -- use Westport's fees as a model ($15 per car on weekdays, $30 on weekends). And make it payable at the entrance instead of forcing out-of-towners to go to Town Hall first.

I'm pretty sure if they do that, the sky won't fall on them. If it does, keep changing it until they find something suitable.

But that would mean that would mean that Greenwich would actually have to want out-of-towners on its beaches. On the contrary. Greenwich has set up its out-of-town entrance fees to accomplish exactly what everyone knows they want to accomplish -- to keep out-of-towners out.


Blogger sandy said...

Right on!

7:56 PM  

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