Mayor Ed Lee told reporters Thursday that he supports Occupy San Francisco as long as their encampment at Justin Herman Plaza is “clean and safe,” but elected officials who attended a City Hall meeting with the mayor and department heads say Lee is intent on removing the tarps and tents from along the Embarcadero.
Occupy San Francisco claims to have around 300 people sleeping overnight at the bocce ball courts along Steuart Street near the Ferry Building.
City officials put the encampment on notice this week, issuing letters to the demonstrators informing them that they face arrest at any time. A widely-rumored police raid on the encampment helped swell the crowd to over 1,000 by early Thursday morning, but no police action was taken.
Lee told reporters Thursday afternoon that he “wants to avoid another Oakland,” and that he supports Occupy San Francisco as long as the encampment is kept “clean and safe” — and as long as the demonstrators remove the tents and tarps under which they sleep at night. “They need to help us clean the area,” Lee said, “because ultimately, that’s what we want to do.”
The city’s demands appear to set the stage for a stalemate. It is unclear how such a compromise between the city and protesters can be reached, as demonstrators reiterated their intent to stay on Justin Herman Plaza indefinitely.
“In order to have this camp habitable, we need shelters, as well as a functioning medical tent,” said Joseph, a member of Occupy San Francisco’s media and communications committee, who declined to give his last name. “We know what clean and safe mean, and we’re improving the camp every day.”
Several of the portable toilets on-site were full to capacity and in need of servicing Thursday evening. No cooking fires were visible.
While expressing support for free speech and the right to assemble, city department heads took a hard-line stance on the encampment, making clear that it is unacceptable.
“It is unhealthy, and it is unsafe,” said fire chief Joanne Hayes-White. “The tarps and the tents are not something the city can tolerate much longer.”
In an evening meeting Thursday with members of the Board of Supervisors and department heads, Lee was “stuck on not having the encampment,” said Supervisor John Avalos, who added that city department heads maintain that the encampment presents safety and health hazards.
Lee has yet to personally visit the encampment, according to Occupy members. No mention of any dialogue or compromise with city officials was made at the encampment’s 6 p.m. general assembly Thursday.
It’s also unclear exactly to what extent the city is reaching out to the demonstrators. In his remarks to the press, Lee said “we have been dialoguing with them,” but the Occupy SF members delegated with speaking to the media gave a conflicting accounts.
“It’s a one-way conversation,” said Occupy San Francisco’s Joseph.
City officials such as Recreation and Parks Department director Phil Ginsburg, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and officials from the Department of Public Health visit the encampment on a daily basis, but no city officials have sat down to open negotiations or to reach a compromise, he said.
Furthermore, the contact person on the letter threatening arrest, a “police Sgt. Jonas… did not make himself available” on Wednesday, Joseph added.
There was a sit-down meeting with “15-20” members of Occupy San Francisco and some department heads, according to mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey, but none of the Occupy attendees could be located, and there was no mention of an official meeting with city officials on the encampment’s white board, which lists the daily events (including an 11:30 a.m. occupation of the mayor’s office).