City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

October 12, 2011
Why Occupy Sacramento may not get to stay in park overnight

The Occupy Sacramento protesters asking to remain in downtown's Cesar Chavez Park 24 hours a day have more than the city's anti-camping ordinances working against them. They have the contentious debate over a sanctioned homeless camp to contend with as well.

As dozens of protesters filled the City Council Chambers on Tuesday to ask that they be allowed to remain in the park without being arrested, more than one City Hall insider mentioned to me that they were concerned about the long-term impact of allowing the demonstrators to stay.

For one, homeless advocates have pushed the city to allow them to camp along the American River Parkway and to establish a city-sanctioned "Safe Ground" homeless encampment. If the city suspends the camping ordinance for Occupy Sacramento, it's certain Safe Ground would demand the same.

So far, only Mayor Kevin Johnson and one or two council members have shown any interest in allowing a Safe Ground camp.

And then there are other groups from around the country that police officials worry would flood into town if the camping ordinance was lifted - even temporarily.

"If you allow one group (to stay in a park overnight), you have to allow all groups," Police Chief Rick Braziel told me. "(Occupy Sacramento) is a peaceful group, but not all groups are."

Braziel said there have been no violent clashes between Occupy Sacramento members and police officers, despite the dozens of arrests that have taken place since last week. He said officers have cleared about 100 protesters from Cesar Chavez Park every night.

While the situation has created a tough spot for the City Council, the Occupy Sacramento protesters might get their wish.

Councilman Steve Cohn asked Tuesday for a report back from city staffers next week on "what the options are." Protesters have been met warmly in other cities and Cohn said, "I feel like this city ought to be able to figure out a way to do it."

Councilman Kevin McCarty said he was interested in "trying to find that sweet spot" where a compromise could be found. However, neither Cohn nor McCarty support a blanket repeal of the anti-camping ordinance.

One possible option: City Manager John Shirey could grant a special permit to allow the demonstrators to stay. A decision won't be made until next week - perhaps after the Occupy movement comes to an end.

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About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

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