Council refrains from action on occupiers until ordinance can be rewritten
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 city council before recessing into closed session to discuss legal issues surrounding the city’s Occupy encampment.
“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 the occupiers at 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. Many wiggled their fingers in the air, expressing support to the Occupiers, as a quiet 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.
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 it’s 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 they paid the entry fees to the Chamber of Commerce who organizes the event. Ms. Crocker also says 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 mislead,” 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 members voiced agreement with Ms. Crocker’s sentiments relating to city ordinances, and Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder recommended a future review session of city ordinances to address the concerns. Corey Calaycay, who was on city council during the writing and approval of the camping ordinance, said the ordinance wasn’t written with Occupy Claremont in mind and needs to be rewritten.
Concern was also raised on why the city council had planned to address the matter in closed session. Though originally slated for closed session discussion, the council decided to refrain from private discussion on the matter for now.
The council will address further actions with Occupy Claremont and the ordinance at a future meeting in 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.