Oakland occupiers, officials take stock of costs

By Terry Collins

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 4 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Demonstrator walks around an encampment of an Occupy Wall Street protest in front of Oakland City Hall in downtown Oakland, Calif., Friday, Nov. 4, 2011. The costs of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Oakland are coming into view as downtown businesses patch broken windows, city politicians face massive overtime costs for police and protesters seek to mend divisions over tactics following a daylong peaceful demonstration that ended in a night of violence.

Paul Sakuma, Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — The tear gas clouds have cleared, graffiti has been scrubbed off buildings, and shattered glass has been swept away.

As downtown Oakland attempts to get back to normal — which for now seems to include a massive Occupy Wall Street tent encampment in front of City Hall — the costs of the movement on the long-struggling city are just starting to come into focus.

And the divisions over the violent tactics that capped an otherwise peaceful day of protest may be taking a toll on the movement itself.

In contrast to New York's thriving island of affluence, Oakland has spent decades on the cusp — a tough, blue-collar town that struggles with poverty and crime.

The protests have been centered in a part of town that has been the target of economic revitalization efforts that recently have lent the area a more upscale vibe but where abandoned storefronts remain plentiful.

Downtown retailers and business leaders say customers and businesses have been scared off. One high-profile real estate developer said he stood in the lobby of his historic office building next to the encampment early Thursday morning and sent vandals at the door scattering when he racked his loaded shotgun.

"I felt the need to defend the janitorial workers, staff, the building, and myself," developer Phil Tagami said in a statement Friday.

"I support many of the diverse objectives of the Occupy movement, and wholeheartedly believe in the rights of assemblage and free speech. Yet it is not an excuse for breaking the law, violent behavior, and vandalizing small businesses as we experienced two nights ago," Tagami said.

City leaders during a chaotic five-hour special meeting Thursday night homed in on the price of business lost because of the protests. The meeting was scheduled a week earlier so the City Council could debate a resolution endorsing the Occupy Oakland camp. The measure ended up getting shelved.

"We're losing 300 to 400 jobs on people who decided to not renew their leases or not to come here," said Mayor Jean Quan, who also complained about what she said was the protesters' lack of willingness to talk with city officials about seeking common ground.

Quan has paid a high political price over her handling of the Occupy encampment.

From an early morning police raid to clear the camp, to a tear gas-filled clash with protesters that night, to an about-face that has allowed the camp to grow bigger than ever, Quan has faced a barrage of criticism from all sides claiming she has failed to show leadership in the crisis.

Joseph Haraburda, president of Oakland's Chamber of Commerce, blames the city for three deals falling through. Two businesses planning to lease a total of 50,000 square feet of office space and another planning to bring 100 jobs into the city pulled out after Quan allowed protesters to reoccupy to their camp following the police raid cleared them out, Haraburda said.

"We want the Occupy Oakland closed," Haraburda said.

One protester, Jesse Smith, 32, who spoke with the mayor after the meeting, said he's willing to meet with Quan but believes the majority of Occupy Oakland participants do not.

He pulled out a flier distributed Thursday that said, "We Will Not Negotiate!"

The back of the flier said the city's special meeting "is an obvious attempt to capture and redirect our energy — into their chambers, on their terms and within the confines of their bureaucratic process. They are afraid."

Smith said several protesters have submitted proposals about meeting with city officials to a committee of Occupy Oakland facilitators, but those ideas have never advanced to the protest's larger General Assembly for discussion and possible vote.

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