The Occupy Wall Street encampment in downtown Berkeley is creating more issues now that it is growing in size but there still aren't any serious problems there, Berkeley City Councilman Jesse Arreguin said today.
The encampment in Civic Center Park, which began in early October, along with similar encampments around the country, initially had only 30 to 40 tents but now has reached about 100 tents.
Arreguin, whose district includes the encampment and who can see it from his office in City Hall, said it has grown since authorities closed down the Occupy Oakland encampment last month and may grow some more if authorities in San Francisco disband the encampment in their city.
Arreguin said there are concerns about sanitation and crime and city officials "will have to have a conversation" about what to do if the encampment continues to grow.
However, he said "there's no sense of urgency for us to go in there and kick people out."
Arreguin said if the encampment becomes too big for the park he would prefer to ask people to leave voluntarily rather than have police use force to get people to go.
Referring to what he said was an excessive use of force by police officers at the Occupy Oakland encampment, Arreguin said, "We don't want an Oakland-type response" and said he was "outraged" by tactics used by police in Oakland and at the Occupy Cal encampment at the University of California at Berkeley.
Arreguin said he supports the goals of the Occupy Wall Street protesters but wonders about the effectiveness of camping in a park as a political statement and if another strategy would be better, although he's not sure what that would be.
Perhaps there should be "a focus on other ways of trying to advocate these important issues," which include corporate greed and the redistribution of wealth, he said.
Principal Pasquale Scuderi of Berkeley High School, which is across the street from the encampment, is also concerned about its growing size. In a recent letter to parents, Scuderi said the situation at the encampment "has complicated our supervision of students in the park during the lunch hour and after school."
He said, "Keeping an eye on our students is a bit more challenging in the park at present with administrators and safety staff having to visually identify students amongst increased numbers of adults, young adults, college students, teenaged non-students and almost 90 tents."
Scuderi said, "As always, we will have two administrators monitoring the park during the lunch hour and we continue to offer plenty of supervised space on the campus for students to eat lunch."
Scuderi told parents that the school hasn't had any negative interactions with campers so far and he doesn't want to cause "unnecessary anxiety" but he wants to inform them about "some logistical and supervisory concerns."
Berkeley police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said there has been "a slight increase" in reported crimes in the park in the past week. Police believe that some crimes aren't reported by Occupy Berkeley campers and victims of several recent batteries have refused to cooperate with authorities, she said.
Kusmiss said one person at the park who was a suspect in a battery incident was detained on Sunday after a brief foot chase and is being held for allegedly violating his probation and resisting arrest.
City of Berkeley spokeswoman Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said the city has accommodated the Occupy Berkeley protesters by adding some garbage cans to help with the increased waste at the park and by cleaning the portable toilets, which already were there, more often.
Arreguin said, "We're monitoring and managing the situation as best as we can."