Occupy San Francisco protesters brace for possible eviction
As Election Day nears, Mayor Ed Lee has pledged his support. A Police Department spokesman said Wednesday that the city is "requesting voluntary compliance" with local health and safety ordinances.
But at the Occupy SF tent city, with its bay and bridge views, tension is rising. On Tuesday, as Oakland police scattered that city's protesters, the San Francisco police chief issued a written warning that was handed out in Justin Herman Plaza, where an estimated 300 protesters and homeless people have erected tents on a public bocci ball court.
"YOU ARE SUBJECT TO ARREST," said the message from Chief Greg Suhr, admonishing protesters that officials have noted ongoing violations of city ordinances against camping, sleeping, open fires, public urinating and defecating, littering and the use of propane tanks.
"The San Francisco Police Department stands ready to facilitate lawful 1st Amendment activities," Suhr said. But "these acts have been and continue to be violations of the law for which you are subject to arrest."
In addition, the city's Department of Public Health posted a warning at the Occupy site Tuesday calling it an "imminent public health hazard" and citing numerous violations of the health code.
"Evidence of excrement, urine, and vomit were observed throughout the park and surrounding areas," the notice said. "Fecal material was observed on stairs and grass. A container of human waste was observed along the Embarcadero side of the park."
Jerry Selness, a retired Navy veteran from Eugene, Ore., is Occupy SF's unofficial medic. He has cared for a homeless teenager with leukemia, a man in his 50s with stents but no heart medicine and countless cuts and scrapes over the last several weeks. He has taken part in the daily city walk-throughs.
"I was told confidentially by a city employee," Selness said, "that this is the most serious warning that something is about to happen -– imminent health threat…. I know the cops will come in. They've come in twice before. They're posting ever more provocative postings."
"They came to Oakland," Selness said. "We should expect them in San Francisco."
Mayor Lee is briefed several times a day on the changing circumstances in the rag-tag encampment. Public health and safety officials, police and homeless outreach staff visit the site regularly. Earlier in the month, police dispersed the group's first encampment several blocks away.
Lee "does not want to see overnight camping in our public spaces," said Christine Falvey, the mayor's spokeswoman. "What he does want to encourage is open and free expression…. The purpose is to talk about economic disparity and joblessness. He's concerned that that message is being lost."
-- Maria L. LaGanga in San Francisco
Photo: A view of the Occupy San Francisco encampment on Wednesday. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press