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November 11, 2011 > US city occupiers, officials say protests costly

US city occupiers, officials say protests costly

By Terry Collins, Associated Press

OAKLAND, California (AP), Nov 04 - The tear gas clouds have cleared, graffiti has been scrubbed off buildings and shattered glass has been swept away.

As downtown Oakland attempts to get back to normal - which for now includes a massive Occupy Wall Street tent camp in front of city hall - the costs of the protest movement on the long-struggling city are starting to come into focus.

In contrast to New York's thriving island of affluence, Oakland is a tough, blue-collar town that struggles with poverty and crime.

The protests have been centered in a part of town that has been the target of economic revitalization efforts, but abandoned storefronts remain plentiful.

City politicians at a chaotic five-hour meeting Thursday night focused on the price of business lost because of the weeks of protests.

Downtown retailers and business leaders say customers and businesses have been scared off. One high-profile real estate developer said he stood in the lobby of his office building next to the tent camp early Thursday morning and sent vandals at the door scattering when he racked his loaded shotgun.

``We're losing 300 to 400 jobs on people who decided to not renew their leases or not to come here,'' said Mayor Jean Quan, who said protesters aren't willing to talk with city officials about seeking common ground.

The president of the Chamber of Commerce blames Quan for three deals falling through.

Two businesses planning to lease office space and another planning to bring 100 jobs into the city pulled out after Quan allowed protesters to return to their camp after a police raid cleared them out, Joseph Haraburda said.

``We have economic development in reverse right now,'' he said.

Quan has paid a high political price over her handling of the Occupy encampment.

From an early-morning police raid to clear the camp, to a tear gas-filled clash with protesters that night, to an about-face that has allowed the camp to grow bigger than ever, Quan has faced criticism from all sides.

The cash-strapped city's response to the protests is also incurring major costs, especially in the form of police overtime.

The Oakland Police Officer's Association estimates that the city will have spent about $2 million in the past two weeks on their response to the protests, which at one point included help from more than a dozen outside police forces.

``Occupy Wall Street comes in, takes over the park, starts to bleed the resources of this city - resources that this city does not have,'' said Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, the union's president.

The high-crime city laid off 80 officers last year in its effort to close a recession-driven budget gap.

Those hardships have not earned the police much sympathy from protesters, who have implored officers to cross the riot lines.

Before Wednesday's massive turnout, Occupy Oakland had adopted several official positions, but none stating that the leaderless group was committed to nonviolence. Like anti-Wall Street encampments in other cities, the Oakland one adopts positions at evening meetings, known as a General Assembly, that are held four times a week.

Among the stances taken by Occupy Oakland was one encouraging participants to use a ``diversity of tactics'' outside the main encampment to register dissatisfaction with the economic status quo.

It noted that during confrontations with police, some protesters might want to have calm conversations and urge officers to be nonviolent, while others might choose to express their anger by yelling, trying to remove police barriers or disrupting traffic.

An early Occupy supporter whose views appear to be diverging from the group is Councilwoman Desley Brooks, who camped out with protesters early on. At the council meeting, she expressed skepticism about the camp's sustainability.

``I believe and understand the lack of hope and the pain and the frustration that people are feeling,'' said Brooks as her colleagues nodded. ``But I have been extremely troubled, troubled by how far do we allow your rights to go and infringe on other people's rights.''

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Associated Press writers Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco and Lisa Leff in Oakland and video journalist Haven Daley in Oakland contributed to this report.

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