Police are ready to raid the Occupy SF encampment when Mayor Ed Lee gives the order, but the interim mayor refused to say Thursday when or whether that order, which carries heavy political implications, will come.
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Lee skirted direct answers Thursday about removing the Occupy SF encampment at Justin Herman Plaza. The protesters, who began their demonstration Sept. 17, have received numerous notices, including that overnight camping in The City is illegal.
Occupy SF is the most controversial issue that Lee has faced since being appointed interim mayor in January. The eviction decision from Lee, who is basing his re-election campaign on his ability to build consensus, could place a political bull’s-eye on Lee’s back, as rival mayoral candidates have lined up to defend the encampment.
Lee said during a news conference Thursday that he wants to avoid a violent police confrontation with the protesters, as happened in Oakland this week, but he restated that the illegal tents across the street from the Ferry Building had to go.
“We’re going to still say, ‘No tents,’” he said. “My style is that we’ll give everybody the space to do what’s right before we act.”
Lee declined to say how much space protesters would get, or how The City would act.
“Make no mistake about it, Mayor Lee’s in charge of this situation,” police Chief Greg Suhr said Thursday.
But the firm line of no camping from Lee has drawn the ire of other mayoral candidates.
Candidate John Avalos was one of five members of the Board of Supervisors who spent Wednesday night at Justin Herman Plaza with Occupy SF as the protesters braced for a possible police raid.
Avalos said he and supervisors Jane Kim, David Chiu, David Campos and Eric Mar tried to reach Lee and police officials during the night, to no avail.
“I do believe it was the presence of elected officials that prevented a raid from happening,” Avalos said.
Lee, who said there was no plan to send police into the Justin Herman Plaza encampment Wednesday night, met with Occupy SF representatives late Thursday afternoon, along with several supervisors, labor leaders, clergy and community groups.
“Though there weren’t any concrete agreements, there was an informal truce,” said Mar, who was at the meeting.
Mar said both sides agreed to meet again in two days, adding that Lee “seemed pretty adamant about no tents.”
Supervisors will consider a resolution next week that would announce their support of Occupy SF and urge Lee to allow the protesters to have tents and “a space free from harassment.”
State Sen. Leland Yee, who also is running for mayor and was at Justin Herman Plaza on Wednesday night, acknowledged the difficulty of Lee’s situation, especially in light of criticism faced by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan after a violent police raid in her city Tuesday night.
“Ed Lee is trying to hold on to his mayorship,” Yee said. “The last thing he needs in these final hours is a crisis. He wants to shut it down — part of him doesn’t — but there might be a raid. And if there is a raid, it’s going to be ugly.”