64 groups and businesses sign on to oppose public safety training center ahead of City Council resolution
By John Ruch
Sixty-four organizations and businesses have signed onto a “Decree of Nonsupport” for Atlanta’s controversial public safety training center plan as part of a City Council member’s intent to introduce an opposition resolution.
The list includes such environmental groups as the Sierra Club, neighborhood groups like the East Atlanta Community Association, left-wing activists like Atlanta Antifascists, and even the sports league Atlanta Roller Derby. Many of the groups are local, while some are from other states or operate nationally and internationally.
The signers were gathered by Margaret Spalding, executive director of the South River Watershed Alliance (SRWA), who says she did so at the request of the unnamed City Council member behind the forthcoming resolution. Three councilmembers who opposed the facility during their campaigns last year — Liliana Bakhtiari, Jason Dozier and Antonio Lewis — did not respond to comment requests. Lewis previously told SaportaReport he had no comment on the resolution proposal but supported “finding ways to come [to] a real solution.”
The $90 million facility, which would train police officers and firefighters from Atlanta and outside departments, is planned for 85 acres of the former Atlanta Prison Farm, a City-owned property on Key Road in unincorporated DeKalb County. The Atlanta Police Department has used part of the property for decades for a shooting range and explosives disposal, but its selection for the massive training center in a secret process by the City and the nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation (APF) revealed last year surprised neighbors and DeKalb officials, generating huge controversy. The project also has been targeted by a police reform and environmental protest movement called “Defend the Atlanta Forest,” which has been largely peaceful and legal, but also involved trespassing and vandalism on the site and at such locations as APF headquarters.
Preliminary site work involving some tree removal is already underway while the APF seeks approval of a land disturbance permit from DeKalb County to begin full construction.
Spalding said part of the intent of the “Decree of Nonsupport” is to show the diversity and scale of opposition to the training center. She said the size of the list shows “the absurdity of rumors and unsubstantiated claims that opposition to development of the training facility at the former Prison Farm property is marginalized and/or mostly non-local extremists. There is no lack of proof, Decree of Nonsupport or not, that there is widespread, peaceful, diverse and local opposition to the project.”
Spalding said she compiled the list in just four days — from June 7 to 10 — and would have had more signers with more time. She noted that many other groups joined a statement last year calling on the City Council to vote against the APF’s lease underlying the development and that several Neighborhood Planning Units and community groups also issued opposition statements at that time, but could not join the decree on such short notice. “Suffice to say there are many more who would likely join,” she said.
The APF said in a written statement that it has plenty of public support as well through elected officials and their vote to approve the plan last year.
“The vast majority of the elected representatives of the 550,000 citizens of Atlanta — including two successive mayors and the entire City Council — has consistently and overwhelmingly approved the construction of the PSTC [public safety training center] and locating it on the 85-acre tract of land on Key Road, owned by the City for more than a century,” the APF said.
Two organizations that signed the “Decree of Nonsupport” say environmental reasons are behind their concerns.
The Sierra Club’s Georgia chapter hopes the City will revoke APF’s lease and instead follow its own urban design vision that preserves the Key Road site as part of the South River Forest green space concept, said Nina Dutton, chair of the environmental nonprofit’s metro Atlanta group. Planning for the South River Forest just got started.
“The Weelaunee [South River] Forest, the proposed location of the facility, sequesters carbon, filters air pollution, mitigates flooding, helps keep the city’s temperature down, provides habitat for a diverse community of organisms, and offers people a place to enjoy and learn from the ecosystem of which they are a part,” said Dutton, referring to a Native American term for the area. “These benefits should not be tossed aside or taken lightly. The City of Atlanta should be investing in our communities and our environment — this proposed facility would harm both.”
Another signatory is the Buckhead-based Amphibian Foundation, a nonprofit that studies ways to save amphibians as many species face an unusual rate of extinction. Mark Mandica, the foundation’s founder and executive director, says the SRWA made his group aware of the training center plan.
“Our understanding is this proposed development would negatively impact critical forest and wetland habitats for wildlife, including amphibians, in an area where wildlife is already under significant environmental pressure from development, environmental contaminants, and other factors,” said Mandica.
The following is the full list of Decree of Nonsupport signers. They are local to Atlanta unless otherwise noted.
- Abolitionist Law Center (Pennsylvania/national)
- Abolitionist Teaching Network (local/national)
- Amphibian Foundation (Southeast regional)
- Atlanta Antifascists
- Atlanta Community Press Collective (local/statewide)
- Atlanta Creek League
- Atlanta Green Theatre Alliance
- Atlanta Justice Alliance
- Atlanta Roller Derby
- Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights
- Black Alliance for Peace-Atlanta (local/national)
- City in the Forest
- Community Hotline for Incarcerated People (Florida)
- Community Movement Builders
- Daffodil Meadow Collective (Tennessee)
- East Atlanta Community Association
- East Tennessee Harm Reduction (Tennessee)
- Ebrik Coffee Room
- Emory Ecological Society
- Emory Internal Medicine CDIC Advocacy
- Environmental and Climate Justice Hub (California)
- Fight Toxic Prisons (national)
- First Aid Collective Knoxville (Tennessee)
- First E Indigenous Justice Committee
- Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice (Florida)
- Florida Prisoner Solidarity (Florida)
- Food 4 Lives
- Gainesville-Area Action for Environmental Justice (Florida)
- Georgia Conservation Voters (local/statewide)
- Glen Emerald Park Neighborhood Association
- Glide Pizza
- Global Environmental Justice Project (international)
- Grant Park Cooperative Preschool
- The Highlander School
- Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
- Lakota Horse Nation (regional/Sioux lands)
- The Lucky Penny
- Mariposas Rebeldes
- Mosaic ATL
- Patagonia Atlanta (local/national)
- PBC Environmental Coalition (Florida)
- Pluvial Solutions
- Prison Ecology Project (national)
- RED Community Land Trust (Florida)
- Reforest ATL
- Rising Tide North America (national)
- Sabal Trail Resistance (Southeast regional)
- Save the Old Atlanta Prison Farm (local/statewide)
- Sierra Club Georgia Chapter (statewide/national)
- Sierra Club Metro Atlanta Chapter
- Sober Rides Atlanta
- Sol Underground
- Southerners on New Ground (local/Southeast regional)
- South River Arts Studios
- South River Forest Coalition
- South River Watershed Alliance (local/statewide)
- Southwest DeKalb Neighbors of the Atlanta Forest
- Starter Bikes at Georgia Tech
- Sunrise Atlanta
- Survival Resistance in Muscogee Land
- UCSB Prison Environmental Justice Project (California)