Protesters won't be pushed out of parks because of city's anti-camping ordinance
Portland Mayor Sam Adams said Thursday morning that the Occupy Portland protesters could stay in two downtown public parks as long as they 'behave.'
Adams, who left Thursday afternoon for a 10-day trade trip to Hong Kong, said city police would use discretion when dealing with the sticky issue of overnight camping in Chapman and Lownsdale squares a block from City Hall on Southwest Fourth Avenue. The city would enforce laws against alcohol and drug use in the parks, but it had decided - for now - to avoid enforcing its anti-camping ordinances, Adams said.
'We are choosing not to enforce not the city's anti-camping laws and the park closure laws on these two blocks,' Adams told about two dozen reporters in City Hall Thursday morning. 'Our anti-camping ordinance is subject to our discretion in terms of where and when we enforce it.'
At the same time, Adams said he agrees with many of the Occupy Portland/Occupy Wall Street issues, although he doesn't agree with the prolonged camping in the two parks.
'I have long held the view that there are national policies that hurt Portlanders and Oregonians,' Adams said. 'The fact that Occupy Portland and Occupy Wall Street have come along I think is great. I think it puts the focus and a spotlight on some national policy issues that need to be addressed.'
Adams talked with reporters for 26 minutes about the Occupy Portland movement that has set up a camp of between 200 and 400 people in the two small public parks. The protesters are part of a national movement that began Sept. 17 in New York City's Zuccotti Park near Wall Street. Similar groups have set up camps in more than five dozen cities across the nation, protesting, among other things, economic injustice.
Adams said he has talked by telephone with several other mayors in similar situations and had come to the conclusion that each city with an Occupy movement camp was learning 'very interesting lessons in the use of discretion.'
Portland's campers have been in the two downtown squares since a rally and march Oct. 6. They have set up a small town, with a library, medical tents, information booth, a media center and even a lost-and-found booth. Portland's KBOO radio station also has set up a broadcasting tent in the camp.
Most of the campers are young people, some with signs outside their tarp-covered tents protesting the nation's two Middle East wars, the economy and other issues.
There have been a few arrests and incidents in the parks, but for the most part Adams said the protesters were behaving well. If that changed, however, the city could change its stance on the protests, he said.
'This is a day-by-day discretion,' Adams said. 'The location matters and behavior can change day to day.'
Adams said that during the next 10 days he was out of the city, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is the council president, would handle some issues related to the Occupy Portland camp if Adams was unavailable.
Fritz told the campers Tuesday that their constitutional rights trumped the city's anti-camping ordinance and they could stay in the two parks. Thursday morning, however, Fritz backtracked on that comment. 'My use of the word 'trumps' was a very poor choice of words,' Fritz told reporters.
Adams said the city would know by early November the cost of overtime hours police are logging while keeping a watch on the two downtown parks. He refused to speculate on whether the costs would hurt other city programs in the tight budget.