City's Occupy L.A. costs could exceed $1 million, mayor says
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said that the cost of dealing with the Occupy L.A. encampment, its eviction and the cleanup could exceed $1 million, but he defended the decision to allow the protesters to take over the 1.6-acre park for two months, saying that protecting the right to free speech is expensive.
"The 1st Amendment is messy. It's not always pretty. There's sometimes a cost to it. What's the cost if we deny the 1st Amendment to America and Americans?" he said at a City Hall news conference Wednesday. "We’re all going to pay for it and in tough, tough economic times and that's true around the country."
Villaraigosa credited peaceful protesters and the police department's extensive efforts to defuse the tensions that marred other protests with keeping the costs lower. He said he believed Los Angeles will spend far less on overtime and lawsuits than other cities with Occupy camps.
He promised a complete accounting of the cost, which involves departments including police and sanitation.
He defended the decision to wait until early Wednesday morning after the park was officially closed on Sunday night. "We wanted to make sure that they had the requisite time to leave, that there was no question in anybody’s mind that we were working to close the park but to do so with their cooperation," he said.
Villaraigosa said he hopes Occupy L.A.'s protests move beyond "defending a particular patch of parkland."
"The movement’s message of restoring balance to society is too important to be lost amid clashes and conflict,” he said.
The mayor said he had concluded that the occupation was unsustainable as concerns about unsanitary conditions mounted, which he said were underscored by images of children among the tents that "put a chill down my spine."
He also said that he believed it was important to clear out the encampment to allow other groups equal access to the city park to exercise their 1st Amendment rights.
The mayor brushed aside requests from protesters to step in to call for reduced bail and declined to say whether he thought it was too high. Protesters have complained bail has been set at $5,000. "That isn’t my job,” he said, adding that he believed the judges would distinguish between those who resisted arrest and those who did not.
-- John Hoeffel at Los Angeles City Hall
Photo: L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck address the media on the ouster of Occupy L.A. protesters from the park surrounding City Hall. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times