Council refrains from action to occupiers (updated)
Occupy Claremont will not be packing up its tents, at least for the time being. More than 50 residents filled the City Council Chamber Tuesday night to address the council about legal issues surrounding what is referred to as the city’s camping ordiance.
“This is the largest showing I’ve seen for a closed session,” remarked Mayor Sam Pedroza of Tuesday night’s crowd.
A majority of the 22 people that came forward during public comment vocalized support for Occupying Claremont’s City Hall.
“Occupying is as American as apple pie,” said Dana Ward, professor of political studies at Pitzer College highlighting similar movements throughout the country’s history. “We have the right to assemble and speak as long as we are peaceful, not when it’s convenient for authorities.”
“This is our right to free speech,” added Gregory Toliver, a Claremont resident and participant of Occupy Claremont. Mr. Toliver expressed disappointment with those in opposition of the protest, specifically, the local group Claremont Taxpayers for Common Sense. Many in attendance wiggled their fingers in the air at the close of his comments, a silent alternative to applause.
The city’s Occupy movement has recently come under fire by residents who say the encampment violates the city’s camping ordinance, which states that camping is forbidden in public areas within Claremont. The purpose of the code is to make sure that public space is kept presentable and accessible for others and “to prevent the use of public property which interferes with the rights of others for the purpose for which they are intended,” according to City Attorney Sonia Carvalho.
Ironically, the ordinance was passed on second reading exactly 6 years prior to Tuesday night’s meeting. The ordinance was recommended by Claremont Police on December 13, 2005 to address the city’s issue with people sleeping and storing personal property—essentially living—in front of Claremont businesses in the Village. The ordinance was passed with a 3-1 vote. Former Councilmember Jackie McHenry voted against the adoption because of the ordinance’s wording, commenting that “if someone wants to sleep on a bench all day it is their right to do so,” according to city records.
The city feels the Occupy camp is not violating this ordinance, as stated in a press release sent out last week and reaffirmed at Tuesday night’s meeting.
“The protesters are not restricting access to City Hall nor are they depriving anyone use of an area actively used by the public,” the press release reads. “In addition, the area used by the protesters is not creating a threat to public health or safety.”
“This ordinance was not drafted with this issue in mind,” recognized Ms. Carvalho.
However, those who are calling for the shutdown of Occupy Claremont say the city needs to be more consistent with its code enforcement. The issue is not about restricting First Amendment Rights, but addressing Claremont’s lack of clarity or loopholes with its ordinances, said Claremont resident and Tea Party activist Donna Lowe, in public comment. Ms. Lowe is also a member of the city’s Community Services Commission.
A group for last election season’s “No on Measure CL” that included Ms. Lowe and Claremont resident Betty Crocker was told to shut down their booth at Shelton Park in October 2010’s Village Venture because they did not have a permit to set up at the public park, nor had the group paid the registration fee to the Claremont Chamber of Commerce, host of the Village Venture. Ms. Crocker also stated she was told by city officials to take down a “No on Measure CL” sign posted on her lawn and if she failed to comply would be issued a fine.
“I feel like I have been misled,” Ms. Crocker said, who says her group was restricted from doing exactly what the Occupy movement is being allowed to do now. “We have a public ordinance here, and I expect it to be enforced, or for everyone to be treated fairly.”
City council unanimously supported a future review session of the city’s camping ordinance to address the concerns.
Concern was also raised on why the city council would not address the matter in a public setting, instead opting for closed session. Ms. Carvalho indicated that the matter wasn’t required to be discussed in closed session but that it was an option for council. Though originally slated for closed session, the council decided to refrain from private discussion on the matter for now.
Council will discuss the camping ordinance at a furture meeting once it is agendized for open session. Until then, council members stated that the encampment does not violate city ordinances and will be allowed to stay as long as actions remain peaceful.