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Photographer, dog walker shooed off public Navy property

Submitted by on 1, November 16, 2010 – 12:02 amNo Comment

Photo by Ani Dimusheva

By Ani Dimusheva

Photographer Michael Halberstadt was testing camera lenses on the sidewalk in front of City Hall West on Alameda Point on October 28 when a security guard from Universal Protection Services approached and told him he was on private property and could not shoot pictures there. The guard threatened to call police if Halberstadt didn’t leave.

“I pointed out the fact that I was on a sidewalk, next to a bus stop across from West Alameda City Hall. He said he wouldn’t argue, and said he’d call the police,” Halberstadt recalled.

Halberstadt, a professional photographer, takes pictures all over the Bay Area and has taken dozens of photos in Alameda. While he has been asked not to shoot on private property before, he said he has never been harassed on public property – except at Alameda Point. Nevertheless, he obeyed the guard’s orders but called the police non-emergency number himself the same day and was told the police could find no reason why he couldn’t photograph from a sidewalk.

Halberstadt’s was one of a pair of recent incidents The Island has learned about in which residents were told not to tread on public property near City Hall West. Both residents said they complied with orders to leave the property but that they followed up with city staff and police – who said they weren’t aware of any restrictions on their presence there.

Kathleen Henderson said she was walking her dogs on the green Mall area in front of City Hall West on October 30 – a location she says she and her two dogs have patronized for years – when a Universal guard approached her and pointed at “no trespassing” signs posted around the perimeter of the green. The signs cite Section 602(1) of the California Penal Code, which deals with criminal trespass on business property.

Henderson said she walked over to the city hall building following the incident and spoke with Public Works director Matt Naclerio, who told her his employees walk on the lawn occasionally and he’s not aware of any restrictions.

“It seemed a little odd for someone to be bothering me, because I was just walking my dogs, on leash,” she said.

Naclerio confirmed the conversation and added that although he can clearly see the lawn area from his window he has never noticed any “no trespass” signs on it. The signs, located near the corners of the area, are small, weathered and easy to miss unless one is made aware of their existence.

Halberstadt also contacted PM Realty Group, the private property management firm which has long handled leases on the Navy-owned Point for the city and which hired Universal to patrol the property. He was told he needs to have a permit from the city and a liability insurance to photograph on public space if shooting for commercial purposes. He was forwarded an eight-page, base-specific license agreement form to fill out, which lists a fee of $2,000 for each day of filming activity.

“As the property is still owned by the Navy, there are certain requirements to use the property for special events, filming, and photography,” PM Realty’s Ryan Gaugan wrote in an e-mail to Halberstadt, who said he also told Gaugan he was testing his lenses and not photographing for commercial purposes.

“I’ve been harassed three times on Alameda Point by security for photographing. Each time I was told that photography was prohibited without a permit, not commercial photography,” Halberstadt wrote back.

Gaugan declined to comment when a reporter asked for more information on PMRG’s policy and the specific duties of Universal, and referred questions to the city’s development services director, Leslie Little.

Both Little and Nanette Banks Mocanu, finance and administration manager for the city’s Community Development Department, said that non-commercial photography is not restricted in any way anywhere in the city, except on private property. But they said commercial filming on city-owned property requires a permit.

Little said the city determines whether someone is photographing for commercial purposes on a “case-by-case basis.” It was not clear how PM Realty Group’s security personnel determine whether a photographer is shooting for commercial or private purposes, but Little said it likely had to do with how the guards perceive the appearance of the equipment.

“We don’t actively run around looking for people,” Little said. “This guy looks like he is photographing commercially. If he says he is not photographing people commercially he wouldn’t have a problem. We try our best to take people’s word for the activity they are doing.”

Halberstadt uses professional photographic equipment on a tripod even when he takes photographs for non-commercial purposes. He said he was using a 4×5 large format film camera that day and doing nothing more than testing lenses and lighting.

Little said there are areas at Alameda Point where leaseholders are sensitive to private photography, specifically around the perimeter of the MARAD ship fleet docked in the Seaplane Lagoon. The fleet is managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has homeland security concerns around photos being taken of the Navy’s supply fleet, Little said. She said the sensitive area currently is in the process of being fenced off.

Derek Robinson, an environmental coordinator with the Navy’s Base Realignment and Closure program management office, which oversees cleanup and closure efforts at the base, confirmed that fenced off areas are restricted for entering and photographing, and such areas are clearly marked. But he said the Navy has no other restrictions on photography of any sort there.

“The property that is not fenced is leased to the city. The Navy has no restrictions there whatsoever and no relationship with PM Realty Group,” said Robinson.

Little said she would look into the dog walking incident. She said it should not have been a problem and that the area is off limits only to people attempting to use it as an unlicensed field for soccer and other games.

“It’s a risk liability with games because of the number of gopher holes in it. The guard might have been someone new who didn’t know,” Little said.

Halberstadt and Henderson said they have been deterred from pursuing their usual activities following the recent incidents.

“I will not go there until I have a clarification on what’s allowed and what’s not,” Henderson said.

Halberstadt expressed a similar sentiment, saying he’d be willing to shoot at Alameda Point again once he receives an e-mail from the city or PM Realty letting him know that the issue is resolved.

“The basic premise of my complaint is my First Amendment rights. Having or using a camera in public spaces is a fundamental right in a free society.” Halberstadt said.

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