The cost of repairing the increasing damage to the City Hall lawn where hundreds of Occupy L.A. protesters are camped out is becoming an issue for Los Angeles officials even as the protesters make plans to expand their demonstration to other downtown city property.
The city has already incurred $45,000 in costs related to the demonstration, officials said, including thousands of dollars in overtime pay for General Services police. Eight Los Angeles Police Department officers have also been deployed full-time to monitor the protest.
The tent city circling City Hall is getting crowded — organizers say about 700 people stay there each night — and there isn't room for many more. Organizer Mario Brito said it may be necessary to expand.
He and others have set their sights on Fletcher Bowron Square, a concrete plaza cater-corner to City Hall that is a popular daytime hangout for homeless people. Brito said protesters may set up a satellite encampment there by Thursday morning. He said an LAPD assistant chief supported the move.
Cmdr. Andrew Smith had said earlier that the proposed expansion did not have the LAPD's blessing. But in a phone call late Wednesday, he said that permission had been granted for the move and that some of the demonstrators had already relocated.
In the three weeks since several dozen protesters pitched tents to protest economic policies they say favor the rich, city crews have been unable to properly maintain the nearly two acres of grass and tile walkways surrounding City Hall, according to Jon Kirk Mukri, general manager of the city's Department of Recreation and Parks. The neglect can be seen in the lawn's brownish tint.
Reviving the grass may require sod replacement and repair to some of the more than 350 sprinklers on the lawn, Mukri said, and could cost the city as much as $400,000. But a precise estimate was impossible, he said, because the tightly packed encampment has kept city crews from inspecting for damage.
Several protesters and a City Council member on Wednesday dismissed the $400,000 estimate as exorbitant. "That is ludicrous," said protester Lawrence Ziese, who has a degree in landscape architecture. "That's like 10 times what I would charge."
City Councilman Dennis Zine also said Mukri's lawn repair estimate was too high. "All you have to do is throw seed and fertilizer," he said.
Protesters said they would happily care for the City Hall lawn themselves. Brito suggested planting native landscaping, rather than grass. Another suggested growing vegetables. Mukri said his department was open to discussing ways to reduce the city's costs connected to the protest.
There are a lot of big ideas floating around Occupy L.A., but not a whole lot of consensus. The protesters have yet to codify a list of demands. In recent days, tensions within the group have spiked over drug use and growing numbers of homeless who have joined the camp.
Rachel Goldie, 20, decided to leave the protest Wednesday because she felt it had been corrupted by people who didn't care about economic justice. "Everybody is pretty much just partying it up," she said.
Police have been watching the protest closely from a command post inside City Hall. The department sent more than 30 officers to monitor the protest last weekend, Smith said. The daily and weekend deployments are not costing the city extra money, he said. But, he said, the protest is "taking police services away from the rest of the city where they should be out answering 911 calls."