Mayor Lee still moving toward showdown with OccupySF

Protesters are beginning to understand that Mayor Ed Lee is pushing the city's crackdown on them.
Steven T. Jones

Mayor Ed Lee continues to insist that OccupySF break down its encampment in Justin Herman Plaza and threaten to send in riot police if that doesn't happen, even as this week's violent police raid on Occupy Oakland has sparked international outrage, condemnation, and solidarity with other occupations.

Reporters packed into the Mayor's Office for a photo op with a good samaritan who recently helped rescue an injured truck driver, clearly waiting for the chance to interview Lee and Police Chief Greg Suhr about last night's aborted police raid on the OccupySF encampment, asking repeated questions seeking to clarify Lee's confusing political doublespeak before his communication staff shuffled him out of he room after about 10 minutes.

“I, like all of you, were watching in somewhat of very big deep concern as I saw things unveiled in Oakland, certainly in constant communication with not only our chief of police, Chief Suhr, but also all of our departments to say that's not what we want to happen in San Francisco,” Lee began. “We're trying to enforce all the laws here, and of course it's public health stuff that we're emphasizing. We need to make sure our public spaces are clean and healthy, and to protect their First Amendment rights. But we didn't want to get into a situation where we're just busting heads because then it's all lost.”

Yet neither Lee nor Suhr could articulate why they think Oakland's raid turned so violent or how to guard against a similar fate here in San Francisco, particularly because they reiterated their position that the encampment must go and held open the possibility that another police raid – there have been two so far, the second more violent than the first, and the camp has only grown in size since then – could come at any moment.

They also offered shifting explanations for last night's massing of SFPD troops in riot gear in buses on Treasure Island, which protesters believe was turned back only because of the huge presence in the camp, which included five members of the Board of Supervisors and various labor leaders, a group that Lee says he would be meeting with shortly after the event (“We're seeing if they'd like to propose some additional solutions,” Lee said).

When asked about plans for yesterday's raid, Suhr initially said it was simply a normal Wednesday evening training exercise. “There were that many police amassed last Wednesday, there will be that many police amassed next Wednesday. Wednesday is a standard training day for the Police Department,” Suhr said.

But when reporters expressed skepticism – many aware of the busloads of police in riot gear massing on Treasure Island, the last minute changes in police staffing schedules, and the notices of possible police activity sent to businesses around Justin Herman Plaza – Suhr said police were preparing to either assist in Oakland or deal with trouble from OccupySF.

“Out of deference for what was going on in Oakland, we felt that the more pressing need was whether we needed to assist Oakland and/or whether that situation was going to come to us,” Suhr said. “I didn't say it was a training exercise, we took advantage of the presence on what was training day and to train to what we may have to do down the line.”

Lee also raised the concern that violent agitators might come to San Francisco: “They had to get ready for what they saw in downtown Oakland. They had to get ready for hundreds of people coming to San Francisco, either walking over the bridge or coming through the BART system. So they were trying to get ready for that particular activity because we didn't know what was going to happen. We saw a lot of anger and a lot of frustration by people who wanted to come over to San Francisco and we didn't know what their intention was.”

But reporters noted that Lee ordered OccupySF to take down its encampment two weeks ago, that he told reporters this week that they must do so “within days,” and that Suhr circulated a memo in the camp yesterday entitled “You are Subject to Arrest” if they didn't heed city codes regarding overnight camping. Given all that, we again asked if there was any intention to go into the camp last night?

“That was not our intention, but I've always asked the chief to be ready. I've been insistent that we have to be ready to enforce our laws so he's been under that instruction for quite some time. But the tactical decisions are the chief's responsibilities,” Lee said.

Yet later in the press conference, after Lee had left the room, Suhr made it clear that the decision about if and when to stage another raid on OccupySF is the mayor's. “Make no mistake about it, Mayor Lee is in charge of this situation,” Suhr said.

In fact, when we asked Suhr about this constant threat of a violent police raid in the middle of the night hanging over the protesters – which is a wearying distraction from the main economic justice purpose at best, and at worst what some protesters told us was akin to psychological warfare – Suhr said that even he didn't know when a raid might come.

“There's nobody more anxious that I am because I don't know when the raid is coming either, so I can attest to the fact that it makes me anxious. We are working painstakingly and patiently to make sure that area is safe and sanitary,” Suhr said.

But while Lee insists that dialogue and compromise could still avert another crackdown, he refuses to accept that occupation is a tactic that protesters aren't likely to abandon anytime soon. So Lee's insistence that the camp be broken down seems to be putting the city and OccupySF on a collision course that most members of the Board of Supervisors – including those sponsoring resolution urging the city to allow overnight camping – fear could be a disastrous stain on the city.

“Our message to OccupySF is we're still wanting you to comply,” Lee said. “That's been the consistent message we've been sending clearly these last couple weeks...We're trying to ensure that [the ban on] overnight camping is still enforced, but also respecting their rights to protest.”

I and other reporters tried to push Lee on the potentially harmful standoff he was creating, and he tried to make it sound as if the OccupySF movement could avoid another police crackdown, something he said depends on protesters submitting to his demands.

“It's optimistic on our part that we would get some sensible minds who want to help us find a way to clean up the area, because that ultimately what we want to do,” he said.

But for all his statements of support for the Occupy Wall Street movement and stated desire to avoid the violent confrontation in Oakland, he refuses to allow tents on the site.

“There's a fine line between occupying public space within your First Amendment rights and sleeping overnight and causing health conditions that we've been very concerned about. So we're going to take it step by step,” Lee said. When asked about whether tents would still be allowed if the camp was clean and otherwise compliant, he said, “We're still saying no tents.”

So then when and how will you be enforcing that, reporters kept asking.

“Let's see what can voluntarily be done through the dialogue that trying to establish. We've given them a lot of notices. I want to be sure that if we have to do things to enforce our laws, that we're quite justified and that everybody knows,” Lee said.

Yet that was the same stance that Oakland Mayor Jean Quan took, and it's one that she is reportedly backtracking on in the wake of the violence and international condemnation. And Lee couldn't explain how a crackdown might go differently in San Francisco, particularly none that OccupySF has grown larger and more empowered by defying Lee's edict for so long.

“Everyone agrees that we don't want to Oakland situation to happen here,” Lee said, at which point Press Secretary Christine Falvey said he would take only two more questions.

“We're putting a responsible burden on the occupiers to work with us so we can avoid situations like Oakland,” Lee said. “They have to take responsibilities for what they've done.”

“Frankly, it sounds like you've said nothing, and I think some other reporters are feeling the same way,” KCBS reporter Barbara Taylor, the senior journalist stationed at City Hall, said with a tone of exasperation. “So can you just outline, when you say to do the right thing, what is the right thing? Do you expect them to voluntarily take down the tents, clean up the camp, only be there within certain hours?”

“Yes. The right thing for them to begin showing responsibility,” Lee responded.

“But what does that mean?” Taylor persisted.

Lee said they need to clean up the camp, saying that “cleanliness has been our number one concern....They have to show signs that they're willing to work with us.” But the protesters have been diligent about regularly cleaning the camp, and they have complied with other city requests such as no open flames. And when the city refused to make porta-potties available at night, supporters of the camp rented four of their own after the city and its daily newspapers complained about public urination and defecation.

“I've said all along that public safety is our number one concern,” Lee said.

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White reinforced Lee's point, complaining about open flames, car batteries, and generally “unhealthy and unsafe conditions.” When we noted that the protesters have already addressed and abated many of these issues in recent days, she admitted that she hasn't been to the site recently, but said, “The tarps and the tents are not something we're going to tolerate.”

Suhr made it clear that police action would be done in support of other city departments who ordered hazards to be abated. As for when and how officers would do so: “If we believe we could go into the camp safely, if we think we can go in and support the agencies that will be doing the cleanup, without having to go past a measured response, we would do that,” Suhr said. “That opportunity did not present itself last night.”

And so the standoff continues.


It will probably come on election day.

Posted by Jerry Jarvis on Oct. 27, 2011 @ 7:08 pm
Posted by Guest on Oct. 27, 2011 @ 8:44 pm

Hey Ed! F#ck the chinese communist party!!!

Posted by Guest on Oct. 27, 2011 @ 9:44 pm

MUCH appreciation for this report. It's hard to get a real pic of what's happening, even w/ local news finally paying attention. Is fantastic to find YOUR report, and frankly I got no prob w/ slight typos and such - timeliness was more important, and you reported welI - thank you. I really appreciate finding a report from YOU. From the time of Comcast's weekly SF reporter half-hour through the SFBG, I have greatly appreciated your reliably well-researched facts and reliably well-reasoned analysis. It's a relief to find a report from someone I know to be reliable. Best to you, & OccupySF.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 27, 2011 @ 10:37 pm

When the mayor says the chief of police is in charge and the chief of police says the mayor is in charge you know they are both scared senseless.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 27, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

What is the travesty of letting these people camp out in the park for whatever reason they choose. the stunted Che flags, the Costco lawyer from Idiocracy vernacular as high logic etc... whats that to the rest of the world or you as an individual?

If they have a political agenda and don't spend the day badgering the rest of the populace with it, why fuck with them?

harassing the occupy people with my tax dollars is just as ridiculous as forking it over to SEIU do nothings.

Granted the progressives are up everyones ass with their busy body agenda, so it may be hard to let this go. But who gives a shit if these people camp out?

Why should we all lower ourselves to the agenda of the modern American progressive and be concerned with everyones lives and choices?

Posted by meatsack on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 2:47 am

Steven properly nails that the best way to judge Mayor Lee's stance regarding OccupySF is not by his lip service to respecting free speech (aka publicly serving horse manure sandwiches) but by his actions. If he had Health Department reps brainstorming with OccupySFers on ways to improve sanitation, for example, then that would have de-escalated the situation.

Frankly, I feel he would have tried shutting down OccupySF even with the presence of Supervisors and labor leaders. But the public backlash from what happened in Oakland and possible damage to his election chances probably stayed his hand.

So Lee will probably look for some fake opportunity to justify an OccupySF raid in the next week or so. Given that he's shown himself to be Mayor 1%, I am not surprised.

One thing OccupySF supporters can do besides supporting the camp is making sure John Avalos becomes Mayor. Avalos is the mayoral candidate who took the lead in standing up for OccupySF. Now it's time to return the favor.

Posted by Peter on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 11:12 am

Hey Everybody --

Take a look at John Avalos on Democracy Now! program yesterday --

It is the best statement that has been made about OccupySF ---

The big world outside San Francisco is suddenly realizing what a great person we have here -- JOHN AVALOS -- Our Next Mayor !!!

It's Linked on the web site ---

Go There and

CHECK IT OUT !!!!!!!!

Posted by West Portalite on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

The lefts 700 club.

The Bay Area already Quan, Avalos isn't needed to make the area look even more ridiculous.

Posted by meatsack on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

And millions more will see and hear JOHN AVALOS in the next week --

--as he will be continue to be interviewed by National level media, EVERY DAY --

And the other mayoral candidates will NOT be interviewed !!!

And there is a reason for that !!!

His message resonates with the beliefs of MOST AMERICANS !!
That's why !!

Posted by West Portalite on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

Avalos doesn't have a chance because he has made zero effort to reach out to the vast majority of city voters. He clearly doesn't care about anyone outside his constituency, and that kills him in a city-wide election

Posted by Guest on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

The progressive decade is likely over.

What could Avalos do to reach out to the voter tired of their antics?

He could promise to repeal all the nanny state laws and promise to actually work on the nuts and bolts of government instead of trying to perfect his fellow man with more ridiculous laws.

It's highly ironic that the person who wanted to ban pharmacies from selling smokes is the same guy who complains that the occupy people are hounded with petty laws.

The guy is a joke and most people see that.

Posted by meatsack on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 2:12 pm

reasonable to assume that one San Franciscan in twenty is a hard-core progressive. So a candidiate from the Left must reach out to moderates. Avalos doesn't even try, which is fine from an integrity POV, but it also means he cannot possibly win, or even finish in the top five.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

in Occupy SF as some strategic move that will lead him to victory.

This is support he already had. In regards to actually winning a citywide election, it's only slightly more effective than sitting home and doing nothing. I honestly don't think the guy was ever serious about winning this race - there has been zero outreach from his campaign. Almost like he's more than satisfied with being the progressive's sacrificial lamb.

Posted by Longtime Lurker on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

Lurker, you clearly don't know anything about campaigning.

The kind of citywide high profile face time that Avalos is now getting in television and radio media because of his leadership on the Occupy movement issue, is simply huge, and is why I'm thinking that the rumor about the alleged Yee poll showing Avalos in second place for first rank votes is legit.

With Lee getting hammered for corruption, and Avalos getting bigtime national media attention, Avalos could now be on his way to becoming the overall RCV front runner -if- he keeps campaigning his ass off.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

what you claim and allege is happening is in any way reflected in the polls.

And it's highly unlikely that you know enough "normal" SF'ers to know how the silent majority feel.

Avalos is sticking at 5% according to all published polls.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

There simply has not been a poll released recently enough to tell us.

And my assessment is not based on wishful thinking. I don't play that.

This race is starting to look -really- interesting from a lot of angles.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 5:29 pm

Wow, what a piece of work our mayor/former director of the Human Rights Commission really is, he says absolutely nothing and yet talks on and on, obviously he stopped the raid the other night because the election is right around the corner and I'm sure his advisers told him he shouldn't risk another Oakland situation. After the election, all bets are off. Whether he wins or loses. Hopefully loses. Lee is so much a mouthpiece of the 1% it's amazing...what's particularly hypocritical about all this is that 4 months ago the board passed a resolution to put up a plaque for the AIDS Vigil, which was an encampment that lasted 10 years. The city harassed that, too, and tried to shut it down, finally letting it be after it realized that it wouldn't be good to shut it. There's a precedent in that encampment for what's happening with Occupy SF. Why isn't the press asking Lee about that? Lee's on the wrong side of history just as the administration that tried to shut down the AIDS Vigil was.

Posted by queer rage on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

Thank you for reminding us, how soon we forget. Yesterday, Oct 27th, marked the anniversary of that day in 1985 when Steve Russell and Bert Franks chained themselves to the railings thus starting an almost 10 year, 24x7 Occupation of UN Plaza.

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

my observation on polls is that they primarily function to sway public opinion by trumpeting the news that so-and-so candidate is zooming ahead, thereby attracting the attention of the so-called "bandwagon" type voters, who are waiting to decide by seeing who's looking like a winner and then jumping aboard at the very last minute.

polls are basically a bunch of crap too, in and of themself, because the questions are always posed in a twisted manner to favor the desired response.

they now have these lists of voters who've been polled over and over and they know who votes for who, and so they tweak the calling lists. by calling those who they know are already predisposed to favor their guy. yep. no kidding.

you're not gonna convince me that ANY of these mayoral polls are pure as the driven snow.
they all kind of stink, in different ways. none of them can pass the smell test.

it's simply the nature of polls !!

haven't heard about any polls being run by the avalos people. quite frankly, it isn't that kind of a campaign. they aren't into messing with peoples minds in that old time sleazy way.

instead they are spending their time and money by making telephone and literature and face to face contacts with actual san francisco voters.

well how about that.

Posted by West Portalite on Oct. 28, 2011 @ 7:47 pm

"Forty-three percent of Americans agree with the views of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, according to a new CBS News/New York Times poll that found a widespread belief that money and wealth should be distributed more evenly in America.

Twenty-seven percent of Americans said they disagree with the movement, "

"Forty-six percent of Americans say "Occupy Wall Street" represents the views of most Americans, compared to 34 percent who say it does not."

Here is Joe Garofoli's lie:
"43 percent of Americans agree with the goals of Occupy Wall Street, while 37 percent don't, according to a New York Times/CBS poll last week. A higher percentage (46 percent to 37 percent) said Occupy "generally reflect(s) the views of most Americans."
Joe Garofoli, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, October 30, 2011

Posted by Guest on Oct. 30, 2011 @ 12:19 pm

It just comes down to this: who does John Avalos care about, who does John Avalos work for?? It's for you and me: he created thousands of living wage jobs with his landmark legislation for local jobs -- and he has plans to create many more, here in San Francisco, where we need them.

As supervisor, Avalos recently proposed legislation for healthcare for restaurant workers and their families.

Mayor Ed Lee vetoed that healthcare legislation.

It's a pretty clear cut choice.

Posted by Jay Summers on Nov. 05, 2011 @ 6:21 pm