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Kesey Square Incident Raises Questions

A dispute over a Bloomsday reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses in Kesey Square has moved literature — and performing it — out of the classroom and into the legal quagmire of Eugene’s downtown.

Downtown Eugene has a mission statement that tries to bring together the arts and social values with its economic goals. The city code states: “Eugene’s downtown activity zone has been developed to renew, preserve and enhance the economic and aesthetic value of the city’s central business district and to provide facilities conducive to a harmonious blend of civic, social, cultural, residential and economic pursuits.” 

Lately, those hoping to make money in the downtown area have butted heads with those performing and seeking social pursuits, particularly in downtown’s distinctive Kesey Square. 

The latest dispute in Kesey Square came Tuesday, June 17, when Occupy Library was holding a public reading of Ulysses in honor of Bloomsday, a literary holiday, usually observed June 16, that features readings and reenactments across the world. 

Scott Perey of Occupy Library tells EW via email that a food cart vendor from Taylor’s Chuck Wagon claimed that members of Occupy Library were trespassing on his rented space in the square. 

Occupy Library member Art Bownan says that eventually a police sergeant arrived, threatening to cite them for trespassing. “It seems bizarre that the city wants to simultaneously privatize Kesey Square while declaring it a public park,” Bownan says. 

Beth Little, general manager of Saturday Market, says that the market “operates under contract with the city of Eugene to manage private commerce in public spaces in the downtown activity zone.” Food carts, Little says, do not have an area measured by feet or inches, but rather enough space that they feel comfortable doing business. 

There have also been concerns about public space being threatened or impeded with tables being set up in the downtown area, but Little says because food carts have paid for their spaces, they are within their rights to have tables. City Code 4.872 states that prohibitions of tables do not apply to those approved as “authorized activities.”

Homeless advocate Alley Valkyrie says she has been following the legality of food carts in the downtown area for three years, and she alleges that the food carts are in violation of state law for having seating available without providing accessible bathrooms. 

She points to Oregon Administrative Rules under Division 162: Mobile Food Units, Commissaries and Warehouses, section four, which states, “Mobile food unit operators may provide seating for customers if a readily accessible restroom is provided. The restroom must have a hand washing facility that provides hot and cold running water and meets the requirements of OAR 3330150-0000 sections 6-301.11, 6-301.12, 6-301.20 and 6-3-2.11.” 

Little says that food carts are inspected multiple times a year and that the restroom in the Overpark parking garage was deemed close enough.

The private commerce in Kesey Square and the rest of the downtown area is part of the vision for renewing the downtown atmosphere. Little says, “We’re going through a revitalization and it’s an exciting time.” 

On the city of Eugene website, the features of Kesey Square are listed as “performance space” and “public art.” — Kevin Sullivan