Mayor calls for 'unified, peaceful closure' of Occupy Eugene camp

Mayor calls for 'unified, peaceful closure' of Occupy Eugene camp »Play Video
Occupy Eugene camp

EUGENE, Ore. - Violence that put a man in the hospital with life-threatening injuries after a fight at the Occupy Eugene camp prompted the mayor to call a special meeting of the City Council and call on the community for the "unified, peaceful closure of the camp."

"This has caused me to see the wisdom in moving sooner than originally decided. The safety of the public and our officers has to be foremost for us," Mayor Kitty Piercy said at the outset of the special meeting Tuesday at noon. "I ask Occupy Eugene, the broader community and council to come together in unified support of the peaceful closure of the camp." 

The Council voted 5-2 to direct the City Manager to dismantle the camp and restore the site "as soon as practicable."

The Council also voted 7-0 to expand the car camping ordinance to include tents.

"It didn't go in the direction we had hoped it would go," Councilor Andrea Ortiz said of the city's efforts to accomodate Occupy Eugene.

To help mitigate the impact, City Manager Jon Ruiz said city staff prepared the ordinance to allow tent camping at churches that allows people who are homeless to camp in cars at approved locations.

Police Chief Pete Kerns went over a number of violent incidents his officers have responded to in recent weeks, including a man hospitalized after being attacked by a man with an ax.

The most recent incident Monday night involved a fight that put a man in the hospital with injuries that may threaten his life, Kerns said.

"I would defend anyone's right to protest any time, any where," Councilor Mike Clark said. "I don't believe camping is necessary to do it."

Councilor George Brown indicated the violence had "crossed a threshold."

"I just see this as following our original plan, which I think was very sound," he said. "We just have to speed it up."

Councilor Pat Farr said the City should have dealt with this situation earlier. He called the camp's appeal to a troublemaking element "predictable."

"As far as when this should be shut down, immediate is not soon enough for me," George Poling said. He voiced confidence in the police chief's plan to close the camp.

Not all of the Councilors were eager to close the camp.

"I would never have voted to establish a homeless camp, but it happened," Councilor Taylor said.

She questioned the chief of police on where the people in the camp came from and where they would go after the camp closes.

She asked why police couldn't just ask people who commit crimes in the camp to move.

"If these same people were down by the river or down by the bus station and something happened, you would respond to that?" Taylor said.

After the Council voted 5-2 to disband the camp, they opened a public hearing on a proposal to expand the definition of car camping to include tents.

Members of the public affiliated with the Occupy Eugene movement questioned the proposal, saying the program is full and that the council was trying to break up the camp to hide the problem of homelessness.

"Where are you going to put these people?" said "Big" John McCahill, the camp's cook. "There's nowhere for them to go except back to the streets."

"The best way to make changes is to get involved and infiltrate the organization that you want to affect," Councilor Ortiz said.

Councilor Clark recalled Cahill's past testimony calling for a civil society where people work together to solve problems.

"It's eliminated the chance to camp in this one particular park," Councilor Clark said, "but it has not eliminated that opportunity to work together."