LINCOLN — Todd “Tiny” Rose took a drag on his cigarette and pondered his options.
The Lincoln City Council had just voted 6-0 Monday to declare Centennial Mall a city park and to ban tent camping there and in other city parks and public areas.
The new ordinance was proposed after the Occupy Lincoln protest group sent up a tent city on the mall and stayed there for more than 200 days. The group left the mall voluntarily by a May 1 deadline set to give construction crews time to set up before beginning long-delayed repair work.
Rose was one of about a half dozen homeless men who found shelter in the Occupy Lincoln tents last winter. Before then, he said, he slept in a sleeping bag on the downtown streets.
Rose has been homeless since 2007, after he quit his job because of an injury, he said. He was kicked out of the People’s City Mission and doesn’t want to go back. Too crowded and too contentious, he said.
“I’d rather sleep outside than in the mission.”
His Occupy Lincoln friends moved their tents to another public wayside in Lincoln, but the new ordinance also will ban tents in those areas.
For now, Rose is camping in the backyard of a Lincoln man who already has been warned by city authorities that the tents can’t stay there indefinitely either.
Rose was among those who testified against the new ordinance at a public hearing last week. The ordinance was introduced at the request of Mayor Chris Beutler. Beutler said he doesn’t want to infringe on anyone’s free-speech rights to protest, but no one group should be allowed to monopolize public spaces to the exclusion of other residents and groups.
Before Monday’s vote, City Council members Carl Eskridge and DiAnna Schimek said they supported the ordinance after assuring themselves that Lincoln offered adequate alternatives for people like Rose.
“The experts in the field do not think this will have an impact at all,” Eskridge said.
Schimek also said Lincoln residents will continue to have places where they can protest and rally, such as the steps of the Capitol and the City-County Building, public parks, with permission, and even on the sidewalks of Centennial Mall, as long as they don’t block the way for passers-by.
In other action Monday, the council voted 5-1 to adopt a new ordinance requiring workers who serve or sell alcohol to obtain $15 city permits that certify they have completed training on how to respond to underage drinkers and those who have had too much.
Several representatives of major grocery chains in Lincoln had objected to the new ordinance, saying it added another layer of bureaucracy and cost to a sector that rarely violates liquor requirements.
The permits were part of a 2010 compromise in which the city agreed to allow bars to stay open until 2 a.m. after bar owners agreed to server training. It has taken this long to work out the details of the training and permit program.
Package stores, groceries and convenience stores also were included in the requirements based on data from a Lincoln detoxification center that showed about a third of those admitted had obtained their liquor from a store, not a bar.
-By Leslie Reed