Oakland occupiers, officials take stock of costs

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Oakland occupiers, officials take stock of costs

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The tear gas clouds have cleared, graffiti has been scrubbed off buildings, and shattered glass has been swept away.

As downtown Oakland attempts to get back to normal — which for now seems to include a massive Occupy Wall Street tent encampment in front of City Hall — the costs of the movement on the long-struggling city are just starting to come into focus.

And the divisions over the violent tactics that capped an otherwise peaceful day of protest may be taking a toll on the movement itself.

In contrast to New York’s thriving island of affluence, Oakland has spent decades on the cusp — a tough, blue-collar town that struggles with poverty and crime.

The protests have been centered in a part of town that has been the target of economic revitalization efforts that recently have lent the area a more upscale vibe but where abandoned storefronts remain plentiful.

Downtown retailers and business leaders say customers and businesses have been scared off. One high-profile real estate developer said he stood in the lobby of his historic office building next to the encampment early Thursday morning and sent vandals at the door scattering when he racked his loaded shotgun.

“I felt the need to defend the janitorial workers, staff, the building, and myself,” developer Phil Tagami said in a statement Friday.

“I support many of the diverse objectives of the Occupy movement, and wholeheartedly believe in the rights of assemblage and free speech. Yet it is not an excuse for breaking the law, violent behavior, and vandalizing small businesses as we experienced two nights ago,” Tagami said.

City leaders during a chaotic five-hour special meeting Thursday night honed in on the price of business lost because of the protests. The meeting was scheduled a week earlier so the City Council could debate a resolution endorsing the Occupy Oakland camp. The measure ended up getting shelved.

“We’re losing 300 to 400 jobs on people who decided to not renew their leases or not to come here,” said Mayor Jean Quan, who also complained about what she said was the protesters’ lack of willingness to talk with city officials about seeking common ground.

Quan has paid a high political price over her handling of the Occupy encampment.

From an early morning police raid to clear the camp, to a tear gas-filled clash with protesters that night, to an about-face that has allowed the camp to grow bigger than ever, Quan has faced a barrage of criticism from all sides claiming she has failed to show leadership in the crisis.

Joseph Haraburda, president of Oakland’s Chamber of Commerce, blames the city for three deals falling through. Two businesses planning to lease a total of 50,000 square feet of office space and another planning to bring 100 jobs into the city pulled out after Quan allowed protesters to reoccupy to their camp following the police raid cleared them out, Haraburda said.

“We want the Occupy Oakland closed,” Haraburda said.

Chamber officials said in an email Friday that they met with Quan and other city heads to reiterate that businesses are suffering — some with sales down 40 percent — as employees, customers, clients are afraid.

They said they would hold Quan “responsible for a peaceful and successful resolution” to the encampment.

“Do we want jobs or the encampment?” the e-mail said. “Which better serves the needs of the 99%?”

One protester, Jesse Smith, 32, who spoke with the mayor after Thursday’s City Council meeting, said he’s willing to meet with Quan but believes the majority of Occupy Oakland participants do not.

He pulled out a flier distributed Thursday that said, “We Will Not Negotiate!”

The back of the flier said the city’s special meeting “is an obvious attempt to capture and redirect our energy — into their chambers, on their terms and within the confines of their bureaucratic process. They are afraid.”

Smith said several protesters have submitted proposals about meeting with city officials to a committee of Occupy Oakland facilitators, but those ideas have never advanced to the protest’s larger General Assembly for discussion and possible vote.

“There’s an oligarchy that exists within the occupation,” Smith said. “They want no interaction. I want to be a part of the link that puts us and the city together because I want to see the occupation remain.”

The cash-strapped city’s response to the protests is incurring major costs.

The Oakland Police Officer’s Association, which represents the rank-and-file, estimates that the city will have spent about $2 million in the past two weeks on the police response to the protests, which at one point included help from more than a dozen outside law enforcement agencies.

City officials said Friday that last week’s Occupy Oakland-related events cost the city slightly more than $1 million, mostly for police overtime.

“Occupy Wall Street comes in, takes over the park, starts to bleed the resources of this city — resources that this city does not have,” said Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, the police union’s president, who added that officers support the message of the movement, but not its tactics.

The high-crime city laid off 80 officers last year in its effort to close a recession-driven budget gap. The city, however, has recently rehired nearly 40 officers and secured a federal grant for 25 more, but high-ranking police officials say the department of nearly 650 officers need about 1,000 to be effective.

Still, those hardships have not earned the police much sympathy from protesters, who have implored officers to cross the riot lines, in a city that has a long history of tensions between residents and officers.

Before Wednesday’s massive turnout, Occupy Oakland had adopted several official positions, but none stating that the leaderless group was committed to non-violence. Like anti-Wall Street encampments in other cities, the Oakland offshoot adopts stands at evening meetings known as a General Assembly that are held four times a week.

Among the stances taken by Occupy Oakland was one encouraging participants to use a “diversity of tactics” outside the main encampment to register dissatisfaction with the economic status quo.

As an example, it noted that during confrontations with police, some protesters might want to have calm conversations and urge officers to be non-violent, while others might choose to express their anger by yelling, trying to remove police barriers, or disrupting traffic.

Yet at a news conference Thursday, divisions among protesters surfaced as several spokespeople addressed the latest vandalism.

Shake Anderson, a member of Occupy Oakland’s media committee, said participants in the encampment had called the mayor’s office to disavow the people who were causing damage, an action Quan later praised as helping prevent a bigger blowup between protesters and police, who arrested 103 people that night.

“We called the mayor’s office the instant we understood what was taking place over there,” Anderson said.

“That was an anonymous action. That was nothing to do with Occupy Oakland,” Anderson said.

Another committee member, Varucha Peller, interrupted and pleaded with Anderson to stick with the group’s approved message of focusing attention on the thousands of people who shut down the Port of Oakland on Wednesday night.

“Occupy Oakland did not call the mayor’s office. Individuals called the mayor’s office. Occupy Oakland has a policy that has been passed through the General Assembly that we do not negotiate with politicians and we do not involve political parties,” Peller said.

Needa Bee, who is on the Occupy’s planning and People of Color committees, said the occupation overall does not want to deal with the city.

“There’s a ‘Why deal with the system that we’re opposed?’ Many think City Hall is a part of the system,” said Bee, a longtime Oakland activist. “This is an experiment outside of the system. We’re against the political and economic system. This is a camp that liberates unused space and redistributes resources from the ‘Have too much’ to the ‘Don’t have enough.'”

Bee also thinks that not everyone in City Hall is “the enemy.”

An early Occupy supporter whose views appear to be diverging from the group is Councilwoman Desley Brooks, who camped out with protesters early on. At the council meeting, she expressed skepticism about the camp’s sustainability.

“I believe and understand the lack of hope and the pain and the frustration that people are feeling,” said Brooks as her colleagues nodded in agreement. “But I have been extremely troubled, troubled by how far do we allow your rights to go and infringe on other people’s rights.”

Associated Press writer Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco and video journalist Haven Daley in Oakland contributed to this report.