Occupy Berkeley protesters handed eviction notice

Barbara Sullinger/Staff
Tents set up by members of Occupy Berkeley dot the grass at Martin Luther King Park in Downtown Berkeley.

Occupy Berkeley protesters camping out in Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park received an eviction notice from Berkeley city staff Tuesday night, warning that failure to comply could result in arrests.

The notice, which sets the park closure at 10 p.m. Wednesday, cites Berkeley Municipal code 6.32.020, which restricts access to city parks between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Although the city had originally decided to overlook the curfew, the notice states that anyone who remains in the park Wednesday night after curfew “will be subject to arrest for violating (the code) and their property will be removed.”

Protesters have been occupying the park in solidarity with the worldwide Occupy movement since Oct. 15, and, until Tuesday, the encampment had been met with little interference from the city.

But with the number of tents at the site increasing in recent weeks, concerns have been raised as to what percentage of the participants are actually staying in the park as a means of protest, and how many are merely using the opportunity to camp out on city property.

Last Wednesday, the city manager’s office released a notice which included a list of 16 crimes that have been reported to and investigated by the city regarding campers in the park. The list included incidents of alleged drug use, possession of deadly weapons, assault and stealing.

The notice said city staff would be inspecting the park and would give out citations or make arrests as necessary to maintain public safety in the park.

Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, spokesperson for the Berkeley Police Department, said in an email sent out Wednesday evening that there has been “an increase in serious crimes and violence” since the notice was issued, including an attempted rape at the park Tuesday evening.

Since Thursday, the department has issued 46 citations for violations such as drinking in public, having open containers  of alcohol, among others, according to the email.

Kusmiss added in the email the number of calls for police services has been going up since the camp began, and that “the encampment’s impact on community and participant safety is clear when reading the lists of crimes that have been occurring.”

Occupy Berkeley protester and UC Berkeley junior Bo-Peter Laanen said the notice was not completely unexpected for many campers, who are now deciding what to do next. Laanen said many at the encampment are currently packing up their belongings to go home or to relocate to other sites, while some plan to remain at the site despite the notice.

“We definitely don’t need a camp to be a politically active movement,” Laanen said. “What Occupy Berkeley stands for politically is not necessarily embodied by the camp. The camp is a symbol, but in fact there are a lot of ideological disagreements within it.”

Laanen said he does not expect any violence to take place between occupiers and police when the curfew is enforced tonight.

News of the city’s decision to end the encampment came as a surprise to Berkeley city Councilmember — and representative of the district in which the park is located — Jesse Arreguin, who was unaware of the city’s plans to start enforcing the park closure again until a community member called him Tuesday night to tell him that police had been distributing the notices in the park.

“We have not received any official word from the city manager or the (police department) regarding the removal of the encampment,” Arreguin said. “I honestly, at this time, cannot support the removal of the camp because I don’t know the reasons why.”

After the city released the notice listing illegal activities at the park last week, Arreguin has since submitted a plan to improve health and safety in the park by advocating outreach to homeless campers who might merely be seeking shelter, as well as the implementation of stay-away orders for campers who repeatedly cause trouble.

Arreguin said that although he met with interim City Manager Christine Daniel to discuss his plan Friday, he had not received a direct response to many of the ideas proposed by it.

He had also been unable to reach city staff most of Wednesday about their decision to begin enforcing curfew in the park again, but hoped to get a response before attending the Occupy Berkeley general assembly meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m. to speak with the protesters.

“I wish that as the elected official I had been informed,” Arreguin said. “Other council members are also in the dark about this issue, even though we had requested at council meetings and in private to be informed prior to any plans to remove the camp.”

Soumya Karlamangla contributed to this report.

Adelyn Baxter is the lead city government reporter.