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SLC mayor shuts down water at the Leonardo museum for spraying homeless with sprinklers

Posted at 10:01 PM, Feb 28, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City Mayor's office shut down water at the Leonardo museum Friday morning because staff was upset seeing homeless people and their belongings being sprayed by the museum's sprinkler system.

The Leonardo is now defending itself.

Michael Pemberton, who said he planned on spending the day looking for an apartment, said he woke up with only 20 minutes to remove his belongings before the sprinklers would turn on.

"We didn't quite make it in time," Pemberton said. "This is all of our personal stuff. This is like our living room basically... Makes you feel like you're insignificant and worthless. I don't know how else to say it."

Rachel Otto, the chief of staff for Mayor Erin Mendenhall, said the city may not have had the legal authority to temporarily shut off the museum's water, but they still believe it was the right thing to do.

"We were shocked and appalled at the prospect that this could have been done intentionally," Otto said. "Sure, there's lots of reasons why the city could shut off your water, (for example) if you weren't paying your bill or some other reason. That wasn't the reason that we had to shut off the water this morning at the Leonardo."

Havilah Clark, the chief engagement officer for the Leonardo, said people sleeping outside the building had more than an hour's notice to remove their belongings for a scheduled sprinkler test that was necessary to perform as the weather begins to warm up.

Staff at the museum called the Salt Lake City Police Department to help with the process.

Clark said staff at the Leonardo started warning people they would be turning on the sprinklers more than an hour in advance. The sprinklers ran for 20 minutes before the city shut off the water.

"We let the people outside know multiple times," Clark said. "We have always acted with compassion. We've always acted with empathy... As far as we're aware, no one got wet."

"They got all of us wet but didn't really get the grass watered," Pemberton said. "My hair was all wet and getting frozen... It's ridiculous because we're just sitting here trying to just live. We just want to live."

Clark said she would typically commend Mayor Mendenhall for taking a stance that defends Salt Lake City's homeless population, but she wishes the mayor's office "reached out to us to fully understand the situation."

She rejected any assertion that the sprinklers were turned on in an effort to get people sleeping outside to move, noting that the Leonardo has a memorial outside of the building to honor men and women who have died in the streets of Salt Lake City.

Otto said the Leonardo should have given the same 24-hour notice that is required by the Salt Lake County Health Department.

The Salt Lake City Police Department says the museum did nothing illegal by testing or using its personal sprinkler system.

"Whether it's legal and whether it's humane and the right thing to do, I think are two separate questions," Otto said. "My personal opinion is that, yes, I find it confusing they would need to test their sprinklers today -- the second-to-last day of February."