The Milwaukee County Parks, Energy and Environment Committee meeting Tuesday was the latest scene of public debate over Pokémon's popularity in Lake Park.
Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman says he’s hearing from his constituents loud and clear. The smartphone game Pokémon Go has turned life as usual in the Lake Park neighborhood upside down.
Wasserman blames Niantic, the company that created the virtual reality game for the crowds of people congregating in and around the park.
The county has contacted the company, asking it to help strike a balance for concerned neighbors, but Niantic hasn’t responded.
“I just don’t think it’s acceptable. I think we need a response and we can work with them to come up with a solution for the Pokémon crew, for neighbors. It’s thumbing their nose at us as a County,” Wasserman says.
County attorney Colleen Foley helped draft the letter the county sent. She believes, at best, Milwaukee can request collaboration with the company, because there are no ordinances to regulate corporate behavior.
Foley says as for the park’s popularity among Pokémon players, it falls under a special category.
“Public parks are a traditional public forum and they are devoted and protected in terms of free speech issues and a place to assemble and debate and to those are very critical constitution issues that I have to into consideration in assessing whether we can put any restrictions on the park,” she says.
Foley says a few rules do regulate basic county park protocol. For instance, they close at 10 pm and vendors can’t set up shop without a permit. And she says officers have issued several hundred citations over the summer for inappropriate behavior.
“But at the end of the day this is a public park and we are enforcing ordinances that exist,” she says.
William Slaughter lives near Lake Park and says he disagrees with Foley. “I respectfully disagree with the corporation counsel as to whether this implicates first amendment issues. If that were true the County would have no right to regulate any kind of assembly or gathering in the park,” he says.
Slaughter says groups using the park for events such as walks or runs must be permitted.
“Even wedding photography, you need a permit to take wedding pictures. The question before this committee should be why the county allows this $500 billion company to operate a commercial entertainment enterprise on county property,” Slaughter adds, “which destroys and degrades park, encourages players to routinely violate county and city ordinances related to park closing times, littering, trespassing and noise.”
Fellow neighbor Kelly Schmidt says her family no longer uses the park. “The only time you can walk through this park and look at the horror that’s gone on with the vegetation is in the morning. You cannot do this any time after 3 or 4 o’clock. Secondly my husband’s car was run into because it’s so chaotic. People pulling in, pulling out, someone is going to get killed. If you sat out and filmed every day the chaos that is going on in a quiet residential area, you would be shocked,” she says.
Pokémon supporter Matthew Bramm doesn’t condone people playing the game from cars and agrees Lake Park does start filling up by 3 in the afternoon. But overall, he sees the situation differently.
“There have been numerous community-organized events to go out and clean. And that’s why as one gentlemen said – Lake Park is almost spotless. We even have people out there picking up cigarette butts and such. And to be honest, I’ve never seen a game bring people together more,” he says.
Bramm want to build on that togetherness. He’s forming a self-policing team – he’s calling it the Southeast Wisconsin Pokémon Rangers.
“Everyone who volunteers will have to work at least one hour a week at a park of their choosing – Lake Park probably going to be the most popular one. Walk around with their badge, at nighttime their going to have an LED reflective armband, so people can stand out, to help assist in the park being cleared out at 10 pm so we can close properly, so there are less tickets being issued to people,” Bramm adds, “Generally try to improve this entire crazy mess the players and residents have found themselves in.”
Bramm says during Tuesday’s meeting, five people joined his Pokémon Rangers sign-up list, and he hopes to talk strategy with the Milwaukee County Parks director as soon as the director can make time.