Unlike in New York, demonstrators of the Occupy SF movement aren’t likely going to find a central public outdoor refuge in The City for camping. Participants in the flagship Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have secured a fairly stable staging ground at privately owned Zuccotti Park, around the corner from the financial epicenter that is the target of their anger.
But in San Francisco, officials with the Department of Public Works and the Recreation and Park Department say the type of camp Occupy SF had set up outside the Federal Reserve Bank in recent days just isn’t possible under local ordinances. Although many homeless are known to sleep in public parks, the rules forbid it, and any major tent city is bound to draw attention. Plus, there isn’t a permit that allows long-term sidewalk camping.
Just after midnight Thursday morning, San Francisco Police Department and Department of Public works officials broke up the group’s camp outside the Federal Reserve building after providing several hours of notice that the growing tent configuration – complete with cooking and communications centers – needed to be dismantled. Like movements that have sprouted in cities across the country, Occupy SF’s message centers on how “the 99 percent” of citizens - subject to the top 1 percent of wealth earners - can combat the growing income gap in the United States.
Without a central shelter, Occupy SF organizer Kyle Lesley said demonstrators might be forced to stay in their own homes or at homeless shelters. The stated goal of the Occupy movement is to do just that – occupy spaces indefinitely until economic equality becomes reality. On its website, the group has activities scheduled through the end of the year.
“We just want a place to stay,” Lesley said, noting that he doesn’t speak for the whole group and all decisions are made by consensus. “We don’t want to get arrested or messed with by the cops in any way.”
Supervisor John Avalos - also a candidate for mayor - was out on Market Street late Wednesday night just before the police action, attempting to prevent the cops from “going ballistic.” He said Friday that The City should bend the rules to accommodate the demonstrators, although he stopped short of saying he would seek changes to any ordinances that would make the OccupySF camp to be legal.
Mayor Ed Lee, who is also running a mayoral campaign, has said though San Francisco deeply respects First Amendment rights to protest, the police action was a simple matter of the unpermitted camp blocking the sidewalks. Lee said in the statement he sympathizes with the movement and is working hard to create jobs, but Avalos had an alternate take on the situation.
“Mayor Lee represents the establishment – the things that the demonstrators are protesting about,” Avalos said. “How else did Ed Lee raise $750,000 in the past month or so that he has been running?”
A press release Friday from labor and community groups said they are planning a rush hour action to speak in solidarity with Occupy SF at 7 a.m. Wednesday outside the Federal Reserve.