How long can Occupy Berkeley last?

The encampment in Civic Center Park includes food tents as well as rudimentary lean-tos. Photos: Lance Knobel

Update, 2:58 pm: The Berkeley Police Department has issued a list of calls for police services at the Occupy Berkeley camp. There have been a total of 24 reported calls since October 23rd, 16 of which can be classified as crimes (this differs slightly from the numbers previously reported by the BPD and cited in our story below). BPD believes there are crimes and other incidents that have gone unreported, as would be expected at any large gathering. BPD says some cases have involved deadly weapons, and that the number of calls has increased in the past week. Read the full list here.

Original story: Without media fanfare or loud demonstrations, the Occupy Berkeley encampment in Civic Center Park has grown to about 90 tents. As Berkeleyside reported, the “radical inclusivity” of the Occupy Berkeley gathering has created tensions. City officials and local police have adopted a policy of monitoring and tolerance, rather than threats and injunctions. City staff and police patrol the encampment regularly. But with both Oakland and San Francisco Occupy sites now closed, what is the likely future for the Bay Area’s last significant Occupy movement site? Not everybody is comfortable with its ongoing presence.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguín, whose 4th district includes Civic Center Park, has views that are echoed by other city officials. “We don’t have any plans to clear people out of the park,” Arreguín said. “I have supported the Occupy encampment from the beginning. There may come a point — I don’t believe the point is now — where we have to ask the people to go. It’s inevitable that the conversation will have to happen.”

According to Arreguín, the kinds of actions that would trigger that “conversation” include “a real threat to public safety” or “serious problems”. “Duration will be an issue,” as well, Arreguín said. He’s confident that when that time comes, “we can have a dialogue and we can work out arrangements”.

“Our response to Occupy Berkeley represents the city’s values,” Arreguín said. “We’re a compassionate city.”

That compassion seems to extend to business leaders.

“We understand and empathize with the 99% and the need to speak out,” said John DeClercq, co-CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. “We’re very protective of our small businesses who are clearly part of the 99%. The Occupy Berkeley group is interesting. They don’t seem to need headlines or attract thousands. By and large, they behave themselves. Right now, no harm, no foul.”

The only vocal concern about the encampment has come from the leadership of Berkeley High School, which abuts the park. Principal Pasquale Scuderi emailed parents two weeks ago pointing out the challenges the encampment creates for supervision for the open campus high school. At that time, Scuderi said there were “no negative interactions with the campers”.

Some parents have not been so sanguine. A number have pointed out that Civic Center Park is one of the two evacuation sites for Berkeley High in case of emergency (half the students are directed to go to the athletic fields on the campus, half to the park). With the encampment, it would be extremely difficult to gather 1,600 students in the park.

The scores of tents in the Occupy Berkeley encampment sit next door to Berkeley High School. Photo: Lance Knobel

Eric Gorovitz, a parent of a BHS freshman, sent an open letter to the City Council objecting to “the continued and expanding presence of the unsanitary and illegal tent village on the front stoop of our high school”. Gorovitz called for “Berkeley to join the ranks of compassionate but responsible communities that have respectfully but firmly put an end to tent villages on public property”.

“It seems like a no brainer that it shouldn’t happen on the front steps of a school,” Gorovitz told Berkeleyside. “There’s no room for error. Some kid is going to find themselves in a precarious situation there. It’s a recipe for disaster. Does [the encampment] have to go only after someone gets hurt?”

According to the Berkeley Police Department, there had been 23 reported calls for service related to the Occupy Berkeley gathering between October 23 and December 7, 15 of which could be classified as crimes. According to Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, spokesperson for the BPD, “in some of the crime cases, victims did not wish to cooperate.” She told Berkeleyside that there had been a slight increase in calls for police services in the last week. “We believe that some of the increase may be a direct outcome of the fact that the gathering has grown,” she said.

Kusmiss said that many of the reported incidents have involved “individuals that frequented Civic Center Park and the area prior to the gathering”. As Berkeleyside reported earlier, there are long-term homeless, people with mental illness, and people with drug and alcohol addictions, in addition to people who set up tent to join a protest movement.

Kusmiss would not say what plans BPD has should city officials seek an end to the encampment, but she did describe a process very different to the one next door in Oakland.

“It would be a very thoughtful, collaborative decision made by many city entities, not driven by the police department,” Kusmiss said. “We pride ourselves on being thoughtful and using as minimal force as possible in any situation we may be called upon to handle.”

Berkeley High concerned about Civic Park Occupy camp [12.01.11]
Occupy Berkeley remains, but experiment is proving fragile [11.28.11]
Occupy Berkeley consolidates camp, supports Oakland [11.02.11]
All quiet at Occupy Berkeley camp at MLK Park [10.26.11]
Berkeley joins 900 cities to condemn corporate greed [10.16.11]
Wall Street protests come to Berkeley [10.09.11]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • Bruce Love

    Your obsession with me and the most often vacuous but gratuitously insulting comments you make is a creepy personal attack, especially as you cower behind your veil of anonymity.


  • I think the best way to explain might be to reply with some words you wrote about another poster here: “I’ll only add that I think you have a harmful political influence well beyond what might be justified by your positive contribution. You seem, under the surface (to me), neither stupid or a person with necessarily evil intent. And so I try, here and there, to either engage or firmly refute you.”


    PS: Let’s not pretend you wouldn’t have called someone else out for using that level of hyperbole if they were using it to, say, support tax cuts or de-funding some sort of Berkeley public service or ending rent control. The historical content of your post was interesting, but the ham-handed attempt at politicizing it? Not so much.

  • Bruce Love

    That’s rather different Sharkey.  I take up Laura Menard on specific issues, matters of fact, and similar.  I’m responding to things she’s actually said and I’m responding on the topic of those matters.  This is different from you and your randomly talking smack about people.    Perhaps you don’t see the difference or perhaps you do and just don’t care for some reason.

  • Bruce Love

    Here is one way for people to begin to get involved with Occupy without taking sides or getting too entangled in the camp issues:

    As Ted Friedman put it some weeks ago:  Occupy your living room.  (So to speak.)

  • Sdfsfdsdfsd

    He isn’t the only council member to support the protest. Please do your research before you slander someones name.

  • Former_BHS_Student

    I went to BHS and that park has always had drugs and alcohol. In fact, it was well known to stay away from that park. I would always avoid it at all costs.

  • Bill

    I’m not sure the Berkeley Occupy site folks can make anything more in the way of a statement at this point.  I think the original intent of the movement as a whole was to publicize the large income disparities in this country and has been largely successful but the movement has lost it’s focus and will probably lose its message as well if they don’t become more focused.   I’ve walked by and through the camp several times on the way downtown and to the PO it’s seems seems pretty benign in the mornings but I suspect that the occupy Berkeley group will begin to fall apart as the camp becomes more of a camp of people with real troubles both mental and substance based.

    If they can police themselves, as they seem to have been doing with the help of BPD, it will work up to a point but don’t I think it will last past January and by then even councilman Arreguin will want it gone.

  • Berkeley Citizen

    Visited the Occupy site on Saturday, and want to join those calling for the campers to relinquish the park.  The Occupy movement is an important one, but the current encampment does not have symbolic importance of occupying Wall Street, where many of the 1% could see the protest daily.  If those claiming the title of “Occupy Berkeley” decided to end the encampment, the city would have more range of options to compell the remaining folks to move on (likely a mixture of carrot and stick.)

  • Comparing the current economic downturn with one of the largest recorded earthquakes in California’s history that left one of the largest cities on the west coast a heap of smoking rubble is ridiculous. Not to mention insulting to the brave men, women and children who had to live through that disaster in 1906.

  • Bruce Love

    Part of what the camp is doing (people closer to it than I am tell me) is simply helping a bunch of good folks who are distinctly not the trouble-makers.   It’s consistent with Occupy overall to care about doing that.   I hope that as the troubles get worked out, our friends and neighbors in the camp don’t get screwed and instead maybe even get helped a bit more.

  • I talked to Councilmember Arreguin’s aide this afternoon.  He told me that they (city+police) are going to be announcing some new rules for the encampment and that some of the stuff that’s gone on to date won’t be tolerated.  So we’re entering a sort of twilight state in which there will be laws and “laws,” only the first of which are enforced.  

    The most egregious stuff will go away and yet we’ll still be stuck with a bunch of tents in the park, as they are dead set against forcible removal.  I would love for Kriss Worthington to show the courage of his convictions and invite the occupiers to spend a month in a park in his district – Willard, perhaps — so that our neighborhood doesn’t have to bear the brunt of this nonsense.  Then we can move it to Elmwood, Claremont, the hills, and North Berkeley until enough people have had it.

  • PS One other interesting tidbit from my exchange with Arreguin’s aide.  I referred to this comment thread (which they are reading) as evidence that, indeed, the people of the community do not all support the continuation of the camp.  In response, he pointed to the Berkeley Patch poll, which tells the opposite story.  I replied that I don’t really see those as equivalent:  the Patch poll has been tweeted around the Internet and who knows what people are expending the effort of a single click to decide what happens in our town.  The comments here, however, have (for the most part) rather more substance.  (Yes, we’re both aware that neither is a scientific measure.)  Reasonable people can agree to disagree about that one, I suppose, but I thought it interesting how the different kinds of online information are affecting decision making by local officials.

  • Anonymous

    the problem is his…it’s his district thereby his responsibility and he has outwardly supported the movement so i am in no way “slandering his name” do your own research !!

  • The comments on the also tell a very different story than the poll does.
    Most of the comments from registered Patch readers seem to be against Occupy, in spite of what the poll says.

    Arreguin and his aide should take care not to forget that Occupy protesters, which include the “Anonymous” hackers, are savvy internet users. It’s not hard for folks like them to rally the virtual troops from out of town and use proxies to vote multiple times.