Strong debate doesn’t require camping out 

Nationwide, Americans are angry about the economy, unemployment and economic inequality. The Occupy demonstrations in New York, San Francisco and many other cities have spotlighted these concerns and sparked heated dialogue about the many economic and social challenges facing our cities and our nation. Such discussion and debate is warranted. But Occupy San Francisco has become too expansive, dangerous and damaging to continue in its current form.

What began as a peaceful assembly of protesters near Justin Herman Plaza has morphed into an ongoing encampment that is attracting the homeless and mentally ill, individuals suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, and even noncity residents looking for trouble.

Businesses immediately surrounding the plaza have been most affected by the chaos. Nearby hotels, restaurants and merchants have reported vandalism, shoplifting and even break-ins. Management at the Ferry Building has reported egregious public health abuses including human waste and public bathing in restroom toilets.

It’s not just businesses that are concerned about Occupy SF. San Francisco’s departments of Fire, Public Works and Public Health have cited numerous health and safety violations and called for the encampment’s removal.

Even the SPCA called for The City to take action when it found dogs roaming the encampment infected with parvovirus, a highly contagious and fatal disease.

The City has already spent more than $625,000 on Occupy SF. If left to continue, the encampment will cost taxpayers dearly.

With every passing day, The City is forced to spend more and more on street cleaning, police overtime and other activities — money that could otherwise be used to support vital city services that are already threatened by declining state and local revenues. Occupy SF will also deter future visitors and hurt The City’s tourism industry, which generates more than $8.5 billion in spending each year.

Mayor Ed Lee has made specific demands for Occupy SF to limit its footprint and improve health and safety conditions or face being shut down. He has also suggested alternative nonpark sites for the encampment.

Unfortunately, other city leaders are sending a different message. The Board of Supervisors passed a nonbinding resolution allowing occupiers to stay in the plaza. Supervisors John Avalos and Eric Mar have actually encouraged the camping to continue. Regardless of how we as individuals may feel about the country’s financial institutions, the actions of these supervisors are in violation of local ordinances they were sworn to uphold.

Occupy SF has a message, and it has the right to share it. The First Amendment protects the freedoms of speech and peaceable assembly. However, it does not give individuals the right to live in public spaces, nor does it trump the rights of private property owners to peacefully operate their businesses.

Occupy SF is no longer a demonstration, and it is no longer peaceful. It is a permanent encampment that is infringing on the rights of local residents, businesses and visitors. Its continuation will only consume more city resources and threaten local economic recovery.

The time has come for San Francisco to shut down the encampment at Justin Herman Plaza and provide an alternative for the debate over the economic inequality to continue.

Steve Falk is president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

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Steve Falk

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