November 8, 2011 | 8:00am
Last night, the Santa Ana City Council denied Occupy permission to camp in the Civic Center, or anywhere in the city for that matter. Following a public comment session which saw more than 30 people deliver impassioned speeches about crippling student debt, a bleak job market and an unresponsive government, the council upheld a 1993 citywide ban on camping originally enacted to mitigate the blight caused by the area's massive homeless population.
Acting City Attorney Joe Straka explained the ban, which was upheld by the State Supreme Court, has to be applied equally. To allow exemptions for one group of people, such as Occupy, he said, would open the city to civil rights lawsuits from other groups.
Councilmember David Benavides said, "As much as I wish I could join you and lift this ordinance, is it prudent for me to put the city in a position where it could be sued?"
Other councilmembers weighed in on the issue with Sal Tinajero offering a condescending lecture on responsible demonstrations, which in his estimation involve calling the police ahead of time to discuss which protesters will be subjecting themselves to arrest and alerting the media for the resulting photo op.
He also told a pedantic anecdote about a student walk-out that happened back in his school days. When his classmates asked if he would join them, he asked, "Where are you going to walk out to?"
But the most laughable response of the evening came from councilmember Michele Martinez who said, "This global movement is not just about your right to assembly; it's about your duty to vote." To which those in the audience loudly retorted, "our politicians are bought."
The council said they would be open to discussing the issue of prolonged occupation at future meetings and offered to speak with attorney and Irvine Occupier Greg Diamond
, who was on hand to lend support to the Santa Ana group. Diamond was involved in negotiations between Occupy Irvine and the city council there, which granted the group permission to camp on the civic center lawn
. Acting City Attorney Straka referenced Irvine's recent decision saying "They did have some camping ordinances that allowed for some exemptions...but we have issues the city of Irvine does not have."
Their decision made, the council continued with the meeting, by then approaching its seventh hour. As people began to file out of the room, 18-year old Nicholas Dorsey, who had spoken earlier approached the microphone and began shouting, "We can't wait two weeks for you guys to make a decision. Just remember, we voted for you. We won't make that mistake again." Two police officers quickly moved in on him as the council hastily exited the chambers. Dorsey turned to one of the cops and said "You're the 99 percent too," to which the officer brusquely replied, "That's fine, have a good night," dismissing him with a wave of his hand.