The “Occupy SF” protests have cost San Francisco more than $100,000 since they started last month, Mayor Ed Lee said today.
Lee addressed “Occupy SF” at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting, saying although costs to oversee the protests are rising with no end in sight, he supports the spirit of the movement and will support their right to peacefully assemble as long as city laws are followed, particularly those banning camping in city parks.
Lee talked about the demonstrators during his monthly mandated appearance to answer questions from supervisors.
About 100 protesters came to City Hall for the meeting this afternoon, many of them marching from Justin Herman Plaza, where the demonstrations have been based since late September in solidarity with anti-Wall Street rallies in New York City.
Protesters marched to City Hall in response to an incident Sunday night in which police arrested five protesters who were part of a group that had set up tents in the plaza.
Citing the city law banning encampment there, police ordered the protesters to remove the tents and when they refused, officers removed them themselves and took them away in city vehicles.
Four of the protesters were subsequently arrested for being in the roadway illegally and resisting arrest while the fifth was arrested for battery on a police officer. All five were cited and released, police said.
Lee said at today’s board meeting, “from the very beginning, I’ve supported the spirit of ‘Occupy SF'” but said he can’t allow “pitching tents and lighting fires in public parks meant for use by everybody.”
Talking over occasional heckling from members of the crowd, he said, “I think a balance is achievable.”
Speaking to reporters following his appearance in board chambers, Lee expanded on the issues the city is facing with the protesters.
“Part of the challenge is there are different leaders at different times,” so the Police Department has distributed flyers outlining the relevant laws to abide by, including a ban on wood, propane or other flammable objects, he said.
He said he hoped that confrontations like the one Sunday will be avoided moving forward and that police will give demonstrators fair warning before taking action on encampments that might be set up.
Lee said the city is also facing increasing costs due to the occupation, with more than $100,000 already spent on police overtime, health inspections and cleanups by the Department of Public Works.
Supervisor Jane Kim, who asked the question about Occupy SF to the mayor, was one of several supervisors who addressed the movement later on at today’s meeting.
Kim said she is in support of the protests and hasn’t gotten one complaint from city residents or businesses about them, but acknowledged the need to maintain public safety in the plaza.
“This is something we haven’t really seen before … and there will be hits and misses on both sides,” she said.
Dozens of protesters spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Nancy Keyler, a 68-year-old Mission District resident who has participated in the protests, said she opposed the removal of the encampments.
“They need those tents,” especially in inclement weather, Keyler said.
Peter Manchini called the Occupy movements “the most important progressive movement in the past two generations” and said “if San Francisco wants to be taken seriously as a progressive city,” it should stand fully behind the protests.
The protesters are citing the economic disparity between the richest 1 percent and the other 99 percent, and are calling for increased regulation of banks and Wall Street investment firms, among other demands.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News