Irvine council lets Occupy group stay overnight

IRVINE — City Council members backed Occupy Orange County demonstrators’ request to camp overnight on the Civic Center lawn with a unanimous vote Tuesday night.

“America is a democratic country,” Mayor Sukhee Kang said Thursday. “It is important as a city to respect and facilitate free speech rights for everyone and that is exactly what the city has done on Tuesday night after listening to over 60 people speak. It wasn’t about politics, it wasn’t about partisanship; it was about respecting their voice.”

It’s a move that bucks the trend of lawmakers in cities such as Santa Ana, where OOC demonstrators are not allowed overnight encampments.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has asked that demonstrators move the all-hours Occupy Los Angeles camp away from City Hall, the Los Angeles Times reported this week.

“What was holding us back was that we were not fully established,” said Irvine resident and OOC demonstrator Abdur Outlaw, 22.

Protesters spent most of their energy setting up and breaking down the encampment at Harvard Avenue and Alton Parkway each day, rather than spreading awareness to the public of the movement, he said.

“But, it’s out there now,” Outlaw continued. “Everyone knows that our officials OKd us and support us.”

More than 100 demonstrators occupied the Council Chambers during the regular meeting and provided the council with more than three hours of testimony.

Nearing 10 p.m., the time demonstrators would have to break up their encampment and move out of the park space, the council voted to allow them to stay.

Six representatives from OOC and council members, city staff and the Police Department met after the meeting to create ground rules for ensuring that public health, safety and laws are upheld.

“They’ve been very cooperative,” said police spokeswoman Lt. Julia Engen. “We’ve had zero issues all along, even when they weren’t staying overnight.”

The demonstration has not impacted the police force in terms of service or upholding safety, she said.

Demonstrators have occupied the Civic Center since Oct. 15. With parks closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., demonstrators were forced to stand on the sidewalks at night and sleep during the day.

“This group of people is full of the most amazing people I’ve ever known,” said OOC demonstrator and San Clemente resident Sara Beckham. “They’re beautiful. They’re dedicated. We’re all out here for the same purpose.”

While individuals’ ideas of solutions — or even exact the nature of the problem they want to fix — varies, gathering supporters and creating dialogue are the first steps, she said.

“I hope that Irvine sets the precedent for other cities,” Beckham said. “We want people to realize that we’re not here to camp out, we’re not squatting on your land; this is a form of free speech. We’re trying to create some form of real democracy.”

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