Councilman wants to see the bill for allowing, ending Occupy L.A.
First came the overnight removal of protesters. Then the cleanup. Next up? The debate over the steadily growing price tag accompanying Occupy L.A.’s two-month encampment outside Los Angeles City Hall.
Hours after police removed the protesters and arrested more than 200 of them, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander said he plans to introduce a motion calling for a complete accounting of the cost from the campout -- including damage to the south lawn, cleanup of graffiti and overtime costs for city employees.
Those numbers are important, given the city’s dire financial picture, Englander said. A new report on the budget, due out next week, is expected to offer a “bleak” forecast, he added.
“There were a lot of resources spent by so many departments, and we need to find exactly what kind of numbers we’re talking about,” said Englander, a Republican who represents part of the northwest San Fernando Valley. “At the end of the day, the taxpayers paid for this.”
Various dollar amounts have been tossed around in recent weeks. But an array of city departments have been assigned to Occupy L.A., including the Department of Recreation and Parks, the Bureau of Sanitation, the Bureau of Street Services and the Department of Transportation.
Overtime costs for the General Services Department, which runs the police force assigned to City Hall and other municipal buildings, exceeded $100,000 even before the overnight raid.
Meanwhile, Villaraigosa said earlier this week that the cost to repair the lawn and its sprinklers would reach “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Englander said he also wants a discussion of the policy implications raised by the encampment. Occupy L.A. received continuous access to a public space at a time when the Department of Recreation and Parks charges nonprofit groups to rent out park and recreation areas, he said.
“I don’t know what kind of message we’re sending when we’re spending millions of dollars to support protesters,” he said, “yet we charge these other organizations tens of thousands of dollars throughout the city for use of the same types of facilities.”
Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents such neighborhoods as Lincoln Heights and Westlake, offered a different take.
The financial hit to City Hall from the two-month encampment “pales in comparison” to the suffering experienced by Americans who are out of work or who lost their homes to foreclosure, he said. Occupy L.A. gave a nonviolent outlet to those who felt anger over economic injustice, Reyes said.
That offered a far better outcome than the two riots that broke out in Los Angeles in the last 50 years -– one in 1965, the other in 1992, he added.
“Occupy L.A. brought forth a message that needed to be heard," Reyes said. "There’s a level of frustration out there and they needed to express themselves. When people get frustrated, they sometimes express themselves in ways that have consequences. We experienced that ourselves twice here in L.A.”
As morning light came Wednesday, city crews moved in for what they expect to be a massive cleanup effort.
"It is going to take quite a while to clean this up," said Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Jose Perez.
The city’s Bureau of Sanitation assigned a company that specializes in hazardous materials cleanup to remove any human waste that might remain in City Hall park, said Andrea Alarcon, president of the Board of Public Works.
Once that happens, crews will go in and take out the debris, she said.
"My guess is that the majority of it will have to be transported to a landfill," she said.
City officials estimated it would take 10 hours to clean up the lawn, which is mostly dirt now.
-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall
Photo: Sanitation worker Gino Ramirez starts the daunting task of clearing debris left behind by Occupy L.A. protesters. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times.