SF, LA negotiating to close Occupy encampments
Thursday, November 24, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — With anti-Wall Street protesters entrenched in their encampments in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the cities are desperate for long-term solutions to end the drain on resources and the frayed nerves among police and politicians.
To end the standoff, officials in both cities have considered providing protesters with indoor space that would allow the movement to carry out its work in more sanitary, less public facilities.
Occupiers are debating among themselves about whether to hold their ground or try to take advantage of possible moves.
San Francisco is negotiating with Occupy SF members about moving their encampment from the heart of the financial district to an empty school in the city's hip Mission district. That would allow the occupiers to have access to toilets and a room for their daily meetings, while camping out in the parking lot of what was once a small high school.
The move also could help them weed out drug addicts and drunks, and those not wholly committed to their cause.
In Los Angeles, Occupy members said officials rescinded a similar deal, in which the city would have leased a 10,000-square-foot space that once housed a bookstore in Los Angeles Mall to the protesters for $1 a year.
But after the proposal was made public at an Occupy LA general assembly, it generated outrage from some who saw it as a giveaway of public resources by a city struggling with financial problems, and the offer was withdrawn.
Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the encampment around City Hall would be shut down at some point next week.
"The encampment as it exists is unsustainable," Szabo said.
Whether the city continues to negotiate with Occupy LA for a new location remains to be seen.
Either way, the talks in both cities mark a distinctly different approach than tactics used elsewhere that have seen police sent in to dislodge Occupy camps. Violence and arrests plagued camps in Oakland and New York, while the use of batons and pepper spray against peaceful protesters on University of California campuses has led to national outrage and derision.
Occupy LA camper Alifah Ali said she would pack up her tent at City Hall when the order to leave came down in Los Angeles and welcome the possibility of new digs.
"Maybe we need to move," Ali said. "Maybe this will give us room to organize, make our voice clear."
Los Angeles officials initially endorsed the movement and allowed tents to sprout on City Halls lawns. More than 480 tents have since been erected. But problems arose with sanitation, drug use and homeless people moving into the camp.
In San Francisco, several hundred protesters have been hunkered down for some six weeks in about 100 tents at Justin Herman Plaza, at the eastern end of Market Street and across from the tourist-catching Ferry Building on the bay. The city has declared the plaza a public health nuisance, though city officials also credit the campers for their efforts to rid the camp of garbage and keep the grassy area clean.
Mayor Ed Lee has met with the occupiers at several heated closed-door meetings at City Hall. He's repeatedly told them he supports their cause and the right to protest the nation's confounding inequality between the rich and the poor.
But they cannot, he has said, continue to camp out overnight in a public plaza.
"The mayor is being patient," said Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for Lee. "He wants to see some sort of long-term, sustainable plan because the city cannot sustain overnight camping for any long period of time."
Ken Cleaveland of the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco, which represents the hotels and businesses that have been impacted by the noise, loss of tourism and concerns of violence, said some hotels had to reimburse guests who could not sleep, and small businesses in the tourist hub have lost thousands of dollars.
"It's time to move the camp," he said. "Nobody's disagreeing with their right to protest or the inequities in society that they are protesting, but it's not a place to camp out permanently."
A survey by The Associated Press found that during the first two months of the nationwide Occupy protests, the movement that is demanding more out of the wealthiest Americans cost taxpayers at least $13 million in police overtime and other municipal services.
Gentle Blythe, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco public school district, said city officials had approached the district about allowing Occupy SF to relocate to the Mission site that formerly housed Phoenix High School. The School Board is considering a facility permit that would allow the city to lease the property for six months.
Occupy SF members say they're mulling over the proposal.
"We're waiting for whatever caveats the city is going to come back at us with," said Jerry Selness, a retired Navy medic from Eugene, Ore., who has volunteered for a more than a month at the Occupy SF medical tent.
"I do feel that we're at a crux point here: we are either going to give this movement enough time to be able to make our next move, which will be to not only to move this camp, but move to a new phase in the way that we occupy," he said.
There is debate among the occupiers in San Francisco as to whether it's better to stay put, move to another long-term location or make quick hit-and-run occupies at symbolic sites such as bank lobbies and foreclosures auctions.
"For instance, there's a neighborhood in San Francisco right now where they're foreclosing on 11 houses in one street," Selness said. "What a perfect place for us to occupy."
Hoag reported from Los Angeles.