Pokemon lives despite new ordinance in Winona
WINONA — The Winona City Council approved the first reading of a new ordinance Monday outlining conduct within Veterans Memorial Park, but the ordinance stopped short of banning the play of Pokemon Go and other electronic games. Final approval will likely come at the next city council meeting.
"This is about Pokemon," said Winona City Councilman Gerry Krage, who asked city staff to create an ordinance banning the game at the park. "Veterans Park was built 25 years ago. It wasn't until July 8 or 9 when we had two different groups of people trying to share the park, and not successfully."
The game, which uses a cellphone's global positioning system and augmented reality to create a virtual world on top of the real world, places game locations known as PokeStops and Pokemon gyms at landmarks where players can play the game and, in the case of Pokemon gyms, participate in multi-player battles. One such gym is located at Veterans Memorial Park in Winona.
Winona is just the latest battleground over where the game can be played. For example, the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and Virginia's Arlington National Cemetery have asked players to stop playing at those locations.
In a YouTube video that has received nearly 1 million views as of Monday night after being posted on July 29, a group of men claiming to be veterans confront Pokemon Go players in the park, knocking down a portable covering and angrily telling them to leave the site. The veterans can be heard complaining about hammocks and tents being erected at the park.
Bruce Daniel Reed, Jr., 68, was cited with disorderly conduct and fourth-degree criminal damage of property, according to the Winona Police Deputy Chief Tom Williams.
The city crafted a conduct ordinance for Veterans Memorial Park that would ban, among other things, "games or gaming, (electronic or otherwise)." That original ordinance posted on the city's website was altered before the council meeting to limit defacing, damaging or sitting on the monuments in the park, banning pets, banning recreational, sports or athletic activities, erecting tents, hammocks or other structures not part of a military memorial ceremony, riding bikes or skating devices, littering and other basic activities. The ban initially included sleeping or sunbathing.
"It's not enforceable," said Council Member Michelle Alexander. "If I'm sitting on a bench in a tank top, is that sunbathing? If I fall asleep there for five minutes on my lunch, is that sleeping? Some of these are setting people up to be confrontational."
Alexander motioned for two changes to the ordinance, and Council Member Allyn Thurley made a motion for a third — all three were approved — that cut the "sleeping or sunbathing" line along with banning recreational activities including but not limited to sports, athletics, grilling or cooking. The amendments to the ordinance also included limiting the definition of the park to the area around the memorials on the far west end of the park bounded by Lake Park Drive and Park Drive and the parking lot west of the bandshell.
"What we're trying to do is craft a code of conduct in ordinance form that everyone will be agreeable with," Thurley said. The key was defining that section of the park in question as a memorial, then allowing respectful activities within that area. "Just do it with respect and decorum that the memorial deserves."
An earlier meeting of the Veterans Park Committee agreed that it would like to ban gameplay at the park, but doing so would be difficult for police to enforce.
"Police have enough to worry about," Krage said. "We don't need to put that on their plate. Enforcing football or Frisbee with a dog, that's simple. Enforcing an electronic game, not so much."