City Hall leaderless on occupation

People power vs. council inertia.

People power vs. council inertia.

For four increasingly tetchy weeks, members of the Occupy Sacramento movement have dominated the beginnings of city council meetings to at first politely request, and then demand, that their elected representatives represent them, too.

Each week, the council (often led by Vice Mayor Bonnie Pannell, subbing in for frequently absent Mayor Kevin Johnson) has offered a curt “thank you” for the public comments and moved on.

No directions to city staff. No promises to put the issues raised on a future council agenda. No relief from the continuing arrests and threats of prosecution.

Protesters at Cesar Chavez Plaza have been arrested 83 times (and counting) for breaking an after-hours ordinance that critics say is selectively enforced.

By most accounts, police officers have treated the curfew breakers with kid gloves, and many protesters think the cops aren’t necessarily the ones setting policy here. But no one else at City Hall is taking any credit for it either.

It’s not the city council’s policy—the council has taken no action beyond listening politely and offering repeated assurances that they, too, are among the 99 percent.

Technically, the buck stops at the desk of City Manager John Shirey. But his spokesperson, Amy Williams, played down the notion that Shirey was driving the arrests and prosecution.

“The ‘policy’ is contained in the city’s no-camping in city parks ordinance, enacted decades ago. The police department enforces this law and all others,” Williams told SN&R.

Occupy Sacramento’s legal team coordinator, Cres Vellucci, says the city’s hard-line approach to the protests implicates all of City Hall.

“This will cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars—not necessary if they simply extend the hours of Occupy Sacramento,” he said via email of the looming prosecutions. “The police chief, and [Parks and Recreation] can do that. The city manager has some power to do that … and the mayor and City Council who hire these people can influence that. … They all share the blame.”

The Sacramento City Department of Parks and Recreation on Monday rejected the protesters’ request for a special-use permit to stay in the park after hours on the grounds that the application was incomplete and that the request was inconsistent with city code.

Hours before the decision was announced, parks director James L. Combs told SN&R the application included “no names on there of anyone who would be responsible for the group,” other than attorney Mark Merin. It was “very sketchy on its face,” he added.

Occupy Sacramento organizers responded to the rejection by announcing an expansion of the protest into other public spaces downtown, including the lawn outside City Hall.

“We attempted to be reasonable, to make application for a special permit and agreeing to large concessions,” said Vellucci. “The city chose to ignore us and ignore how they are squandering the people’s money.”