Searching Portland for the Forgotten Majesty of the Tastee Freez
Commissioner Nick Fish started it by saying everyone's wrecking the parks, and someone needs to pay for it and that, maybe, hey, it's time for the occupation to clear out of downtown. Amanda Fritz was also on hand for a Q&A yesterday, also complaining about the costs. Business interests, meanwhile, are increasingly pressuring Mayor Sam Adams to give up his "day-to-day" mantra and tell the cops to bust out the Tasers and pepper-spray.
Now comes Randy Leonard—loudly and bluntly rejecting nearly every reason anyone's given for why the occupation should be driven away: "I don't feel the compulsion to say there needs to be an end to this." We should be talking, instead, he said, about decades of economic policy in Washington that's favored the wealthy at the expense of the working class.
Update 5:35 PM: It seems the Oregonian has been reading Blogtown—nice of the editors over there to include at least a link. Oh, wait...
Leonard offered his take on Portland's handling of the occupation in a brief chat in his office. Let's take it point by point.
THE CAMPS ARE EXPENSIVE: Fish said the cleanup bill, without even a full and rigorous examination of Chapman and Lownsdale squares, is at least $19,000. It could grow way beyond that depending on damage to trees. There's also an unknown pile of police overtime costs, from the day of the big march to the effort to reopen Main Street to the continued patrol—two officers at all times—of the encampment. Portland bureaus, of course, are staring at 4 percent to 8 percent budget cuts. (And Leonard himself complained about $41,000 allotment sought by Dan Saltzman a couple of weeks ago, in that light.)
"It's not viewed in its proper context," Leonard explained of the cost estimates so far. "We're actually getting away with spending a lot less than we could have had to."
For instance, he says, "with a different mayor and chief, there could have been an entirely different reaction." Meaning pepper spray, batons, "ongoing street battles," etc. And the OT bill for the cops would be even higher. The jails would be packed, costing Multnomah County. Businesses would see millions in property damage. And the city might have to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal payouts to unarmed victims of police brutality.
"If an adjustment needs to be made to pull something from the reserves," he said, "I'd rather do that than have to pay for riots."
HEY, THOSE ARE EVERYONE'S PARKS!: Fish and Fritz both argued that it's not fair to have several hundred campers use up park space that belongs to everyone—especially the 99 percent that the occupiers say they represent. Others in the community, writing into city hall, say the same thing. At some point, Fish has argued (and Saltzman, among others, is reportedly sympathetic), it's going to be time to figure out what's next to free those spaces back up.
"I don't have the angst or the sense that needs to happen," says Leonard, who says he regularly walks through parks and has never felt like he couldn't stop and do what people do at parks—sit down and converse with a stranger. (And, seriously, those parks are not at all crowded most normal days.)
"We have parks all over the city," he offers to those who don't want to plop down and eat a sandwich like they always might have. "There are dozens of other places downtown to be. Go to the park blocks."
THE CAMP IS "UNRULY": Media and others have been focusing—to varying degrees and with varying spins—on some of the incidents that have been reported to police at the park. A sex assault was sort of reported, a sex offender is registered at the camp, there was a small-time pot bust, a kid went missing for less than an hour, there was some minor graffiti, etc.
"People are peaceful," Leonard says, noting that one of his walks was on 11:30 on a Friday night and that he felt totally fine. "We have more incidents at the Rose Festival on any given night than we've had at Occupy Portland in totality.... There's a small but vocal conservative element that likes to amp up small problems." (Hi, Lars! Hi, Victoria!)
THE MAYOR IS BEING HORRIBLY AND TERRIBLY INCONSISTENT: Community types and conservatives complain the city isn't enforcing its own laws, especially a ban against outdoor, overnight camping. They say Adams is being too soft on a bunch of liberal protesters for whom he's harboring a soft spot.
"I don't know how else you bring attention to the hypocrisy in Washington," Leonard says of the indefinite and only slightly inconvenient occupation. "We're allowing these people to have a place to vent about what's been abject defiance by the GOP-led House when it comes to helping working people survive while at the same time defending millionaires."
"I think Sam is doing the right thing."
A bit later, over in Schrunk Plaza next to the camp, occupier Chapman Clark, a 30-year-old nonprofit manager at PSU said Leonard's comments on costs in particular were music to his
hears. If park repair is too costly for a city that's strapped because foreclosures are bringing down property taxes... If people are upset because the camp has taken in mentally ill people and others who need social services, well...
"People say this is the problem with the movement," he says (adding in a plea for people to donate art supplies to the camp's Info Tent), "but that's the reason for the movement."