SF, LA negotiating to close Occupy encampments

By Christina Hoag

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Nov. 24 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

In this Nov. 2, 2011 photo, an Occupy Los Angeles protester walks past tents set up outside Los Angeles City Hall in Los Angeles. The Occupy Los Angeles encampment around City Hall will be cleared sometime next week, a city official and a lawyer for demonstrators said Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011.

Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Los Angeles and San Francisco are seeking long-term solutions to the entrenched encampments by anti-Wall Street protesters, hoping to end the drain on resources and the frayed nerves among police and politicians.

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.

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.

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.

Protesters in Los Angeles said officials rescinded a similar deal, in which the city would have leased a 10,000-square-foot space that once housed a bookstore in Los Angeles Mall to the protesters for $1 a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from some who saw it as a giveaway of public resources by a city struggling with financial problems, and the offer was withdrawn.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.

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."

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