Oakland occupiers, officials take stock of costs

November 4, 2011 - 5:50 PM

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.

City politicians at a chaotic five-hour meeting Thursday night homed in on the price of business lost because of the protests.

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.

"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.

The president of the Chamber of Commerce blames Quan 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 return to their camp after a police raid had cleared them out, Joseph Haraburda said.

"We have economic development in reverse right now," he said.

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.

The City Council did not vote Thursday on an expected resolution to pledge the city's support to the Occupy movement as several councilmembers expressed doubts, leaving the city's position unclear.

What is clear is that the cash-strapped city's response to the protests is incurring major costs, especially in the form of police overtime.

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 police forces.

"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 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.

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.

"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.

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."

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