The flannel and V-neck T-shirts of SF Occupiers met the crisp sports jackets and polished dress shoes of city officials in an hour-long meeting Tuesday afternoon that ended with Mayor Ed Lee reassuring the occupiers that “We don’t contemplate needing police action if we are working on addressing these issues.”
Lee also told the occupiers that if they join Wednesday’s general strike in Oakland, their camp in San Francisco won’t be raided.
“I assure you of that,” he said.
For the second time in one week, Lee presided over a meeting of 45 occupiers, labor and community leaders, and city department heads and staffers to address the city within a city that is the Occupy SF camp. Porta-potties, a dead lawn, open flames and health issues were all on the meeting agenda. The future of the six-week encampment at Justin Herman Plaza was the ever-present subtext.
The tense portion of the meeting came as occupiers and their allies pushed Lee for public assurance that the camp won’t be raided by police.
“For the record, Mayor Lee, it would be helpful to come out of this meeting with a joint statement,” said Shaw San Liu, an organizer with the Chinese Progressive Association.
“Again, I need to speak in my own words,” Lee said. “There would be no doubt if things broke down, everyone in this room would know.”
“Of course you can use your own words,” San Liu said, “but [the occupiers] want a recognition that they have a right to exist.”
“We don’t contemplate needing police action if we are working on addressing these issues,” Lee said.
Since Occupy SF first formed on September 17, police have twice raided their camps, resulting in at least 16 arrests. A raid planned for last Wednesday was likely called off after a number of supervisors, including John Avalos and Jane Kim, and other prominent figures joined the campers.
Like the first meeting late last week, Tuesday’s discussions centered around figuring out how the camp can safely exist in the long term without quashing the occupiers’ constitutional rights.
Largely as a result of the political backlash that has engulfed Oakland Mayor Jean Quan after last Tuesday’s police confrontations in that city transformed the downtown area into a war zone of tear gas and rubber bullets, a number of San Francisco supervisors and city officials see diplomacy as a more effective way of dealing with Occupy SF.
After a brief round of introductions, Philip Oje, a spokesman for the occupiers, described how they had addressed several of the city’s health concerns: porta-potties will be serviced daily, a team of people will regularly clean up the camp, the bocce ball court has been cleared and the kitchen’s health standards won a seal of approval from the Department of Public Health — five stars, as Oje put it.
“Five stars?” asked a man in the room, surprised.
“Yeah,” Oje replied, and everyone laughed.
“That’s the first level of cooperation I want to recognize,” Lee later said. He then asked department heads to run down a laundry list of objectives.
Mohammed Nuru, the interim director of the Department of Public Works, went first. He described how Recology will come twice a day to pick up garbage and recycling. He praised the occupiers for setting up regular porta-potty cleanups, but also cautioned against using trees to tether the tarps covering many of the camp’s facilities, including the kitchen.
“Have you seen our new kitchen?” an occupier asked.
“Yes,” Nuru replied.
“Though I hear it’s tough to get a reservation,” joked Phil Ginsberg, head of the Recreation and Park Department.
Ginsberg picked it up from there. “Our biggest concern is the lawn. It’s dead.”
Once the winter rains begin, he added, the lawn will become a muddy mess, and it will likely be difficult for campers to stay there.
The months of wet weather ahead will do much to complicate things for the encampment. Parts of the plaza could flood, and without an endorsement from the city on the use of tents, health issues could mount.
Someone at the camp was found to have scabies, according to Barbara Garcia, head of the Department of Public Health. Scabies are tiny parasitic creatures, like bedbugs or fleas, that are highly contagious but easy to remedy. No matter if the person was an occupier, Garcia said — such infestations can be disastrous. The health department is using guidelines for international refugee camps, she said.
“Those kinds of issues, if that happened to an occupier, needs to be addressed right away.”
Fire Chief Joanne Reyes-White said she was concerned about the use of open flames at the site. Occupiers mostly have refrained from doing so, but occasionally someone has used a candle for light.
The fire chief added that emergency services had picked up a woman with a stab wound to the abdomen at the camp’s medical tent at around 3:45 this morning. Although it’s unlikely that she was stabbed at the camp, Reyes-White warned that as numbers there grow, it will pose more of a safety risk.
“I’m the one who made the call,” said Carl, who was at the medical tent that night. He added that the woman was stabbed in the Tenderloin 30 minutes before arriving at the camp.
Occupiers brought up a video that has been circulating on the Internet, showing two Oakland police officers who infiltrated Occupy Oakland. They were concerned that SFPD might engage in similar tactics.
“That’s pretty sinister,” Lee said. “There’s no reason we need to infiltrate your camp.”
At the end of the hour-long meeting, each party committed to keeping negotiations moving forward. The occupiers will take what was discussed back to the General Assembly to see where their members want to go from here, and the city will continue working with the occupiers to find solutions to their concerns.