LA offers Occupy camp offices to dismantle tents

By Christina Hoag

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 22 2011 4:40 p.m. MST

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles officials have offered Occupy protesters a vacant office building and two empty lots for a community garden if they dismantle their tents from the City Hall lawn.

It was uncertain Tuesday if occupiers would accept the offer, which is a departure from tactics used in other cities where police have been sent to dislodge Occupy camps. Riots and arrests have occurred in several places, including New York and Oakland, Calif.

The proposed deal is the result of a series of meetings between Occupy organizers and city officials, who initially welcomed campers when they set up their tents seven weeks ago. However, officials indicated several weeks ago that they'd had enough and wanted to negotiate an end to the protest.

The city is offering a 10,000 square foot building near City Hall to be used as office space, said Jim Lafferty, who has been negotiating on Occupy LA's behalf.

The building, which once housed a bookstore, would be leased for $1 per year, but payment of utilities is still to be decided. Lafferty, who is the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles, said he is forming a nonprofit to enable Occupy LA to sign the lease.

Officials have also offered two city-owned vacant lots on the eastside of downtown Los Angeles for a community vegetable garden, Lafferty said.

City Hall spokesman Peter Sanders couldn't confirm the proposed deal, saying only that negotiations are ongoing.

The proposal has sparked much debate in the 485-tent camp, where decisions are made by consensus at nightly general assembly meetings. Some see it as a good deal and a chance to push the movement forward after it made its initial statement and raised public awareness.

"Now we can get really organized and lose the riff-raff who are just here for the handouts," said Matt Wegner, who's been camping out for 32 days.

But others said occupiers should remain in their tents as a way to keep the pressure on the government to change economic policies.

"We're holding City Hall hostage," said protester John Smith. "We can't sell out."

Some activists said they should push the city for even more. "We can compromise but with a bigger space that meets our needs," said Juan Alcala, as he swept the sidewalk.

Lafferty said he warned protesters that if they don't accept the deal, police will move in to make arrests.

Reaction outside the camp was just as varied.

"It's ludicrous," said Charles Norris, a lawyer in downtown Los Angeles. "If we had a mayor who enforced the law, they wouldn't be camping out."

Some noted that in a time of tight city budgets, the protesters appear to be getting special treatment.

"It does seem like the squeaky wheel is getting the grease," said retiree Bill Talstin, who said he supported the Occupy movement's aims. "There are people in shelters would like a little farm. They shouldn't be getting something for themselves out of this."

Attorney Lin Gan said the city was taking an easy way out — getting rid of the camp without really addressing the group's concerns of growing economic inequality. "Is giving them a building really resolving the underlying issue?" she asked.

Lafferty said Occupy is also pushing for housing for the homeless. He predicted that some occupiers would take the deal, while others would remain and risk arrest. "It's going to be discussed at several nights of general assemblies," he said.

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