For nearly two months, OccupyLA protesters have held their ground on the lawn of City Hall. As winter approaches, getting through the night has become a significant test.
Negotiators for Occupy L.A. protesters said they were told by city officials today that they will have to move their City Hall encampment "sometime next week" and possibly as early as Monday. Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo has confirmed.
Occupy L.A. members announced at a news conference today that Occupy members would receive a 72-hour notice but that they'd been told "it is time for [us] to leave."
The announcement was delivered by attorney Jim Lafferty and Occupy spokesman Mario Brito immediately after meeting with city officials, including a deputy mayor, deputy police chief and a police commander.
Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo told The Associated Press that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, after consulting with police, decided the encampment on City Hall lawns will be closed at some point next week, then cleaned and restored.
"The encampment as it exists is unsustainable," Szabo said.
Occupy negotiators who had been talking with L.A. officials initially delivered the unverified news to their peers at a meeting inside the encampment Tuesday night. They said they'd asked for an extension of the deadline, according to the L.A. Times.
The news follows an earlier announcement that city officials had offered protesters an incentive package to vacate the L.A. City Hall lawn. Occupy negotiators said that officials had since backed down from that offer.
The mayor had offered something the city extends to many non-profit groups: rented city office space for a dollar a year. Occupy L.A. was being offered 10,000 square feet of office space downtown. The group would have to apply for non-profit status. He’d also said he’d locate farmland for Occupy to grow its own food, a big issue for some demonstrators. Villaraigosa also said he'd work to find more housing vouchers for homeless people at the encampment.
Unlike other cities, Los Angeles has permitted Occupy L.A. demonstrators to camp outside City Hall since Oct. 1. Nearly 500 tents surround the building.
Shelly Moss liked the proposal. “I’ll take a voucher, oh yeah I would," Moss, 37, said as she stood outside her tidy tent on the west side of City Hall. "I’m a single mom, I have three kids, one adult and two minors. I’m here because I have no job and no job means no home.”
Moss appeared to be in the minority. Some said big banks have pressured the mayor to make them, and their demands for economic equality, disappear. Others said they have a right to remain on a public lawn.
Between puffs on a joint, one man indicated that he didn't know about any deal.
Chris Rose, 22, of Tujunga lost his job as a movie usher earlier this year. He said he’s willing to get arrested, and he pointed to the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as his inspiration.
“He built a solid regiment of people who were willing to be peaceful and get arrested basically every week,” Rose said.
Occupiers hotly debated the proposed deal. Some worked on a counter-proposal. Agreement is hard to come by at Occupy L.A., where everyone makes decisions by near-unanimous consensus.
City leaders appear to be struggling with decisions too. One Occupy activist, Ryan Rice, who met with the mayor’s staff Tuesday, said they already had altered the deal they'd offered Monday.
“They backtracked off of the specifics of which building and/or which farm. But they still are more than willing to work with us and find a solution," Rice said of the city.
The mayor’s office did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Rice said a staff member told him that Villaraigosa is "getting impatient." Another activist said the city wants them out by Monday, Nov. 28, but officials said they’ve issued no deadline.
The director of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles, Jim Lafferty, said he’s spoken repeatedly with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.
“The chief has said to me on numerous occasions, ‘please assure people that we are not the New York Police Department, we are not the Oakland Police Department, and whatever we have to do, we will do in as peaceful and proper way as we possible can,'” Lafferty said.
To date, Los Angeles and its police department has been the exception in its handling of the Occupy movement. The real test of the city administration's mettle may happen soon, when it will have to forcibly remove some protesters from its front lawn.
Earlier Tuesday, a crowd of anti-Wall Street sympathizers gathered on the steps of the Federal Reserve Building to call for an end to the federal reserve.
About 100 people holding signs and a large banner that read "End the Fed" took turns giving speeches Tuesday evening.
Los Angeles police officers on bicycles lined the curb near the protesters to keep them off the street. Traffic flowed normally and no problems were reported.
This story has been updated. Reporting was contributed by the Associated Press.