Seattle seeks balance with Occupiers

Police arrested 25 Seattle protesters who refused to remove tents

Deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston made no mention Tuesday of Vancouver city hall seeking Seattle's advice on how to deal with the Occupy Vancouver tent village.

But an adviser to Seattle's mayor said Mike McGinn did speak with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson "in the past month" about the Occupy Wall Street anti-corporate greed movement.

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"I don't know the details of the conversation," said McGinn's assistant communications director Aaron Pickus.

Johnston told city council that "we have spoken with our peers in other cities, particularly places where they have had conflict." He mentioned Portland, Denver and Oakland, but not Seattle.

Occupy Wall Street-inspired protesters set up camp Oct. 1 at Westlake Park, a popular downtown Seattle gathering spot for protests, charity and corporate events and civic celebrations.

Seattle Police arrested 25 Occupy Seattle protesters who refused to remove their tents Oct. 5.

McGinn, a Democrat elected in 2009, served protesters coffee on Oct. 8 at Westlake Park and spoke to the crowd the next day. He stood firm on the city's anti-camping bylaw but invited them to camp overnight at City Hall Plaza.

"Mayor McGinn is very supportive of the broader message," Pickus said. "While supporting the message of the movement, he is the mayor and his primary responsibilities are public safety and health."

Permits with detailed terms and conditions were issued to Occupy Seattle for non-exclusive use of both spaces on Oct. 18. Seattle city hall's website includes a page devoted to Occupy Seattle with links to the permits and orders to comply with all "city, county, state and federal laws and rules."

On Saturday, Occupy Seattle set up camp at Seattle Central Community College with the institution's permission and published a "good neighbour statement" on its website.

Pickus said Seattle spent $321,000 in civic services on the protest through Oct. 25. Occupy Vancouver has cost taxpayers $540,000. Seattle voters go to the polls Nov. 8 to elect five city councillors. McGinn's term ends in 2013. Vancouverites vote Nov. 19.

"[Vancouver] has the wherewithal to move forward and enforce its bylaws, but because of the election they're being hesitant," said Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association executive director Charles Gauthier.

Gauthier said he is conferring with leaders of the 600-member International Downtown Association, which represents urban centres around the world. "They're all sharing the concern that our civic leaders are not addressing it the way we'd like," Gauthier said.

Gauthier said he visited Occupy Vancouver's camp three times since Friday with Johnston and senior housing planner Dan Garrison to establish communication. Coun. Suzanne Anton, the NPA mayoral candidate who wants the camp removed, told council she visited Monday.

Gauthier said he respects the right to protest but wants the camp to end peacefully. Until then, he hopes Occupy Vancouver will adopt a code of conduct, avoid occupying private space such as banks, and share the plaza with groups planning Christmas and Hanukkah activities.

Organizers of the Rogers Santa Claus Parade have altered the Dec. 4 route to avoid the Vancouver Art Gallery, where protesters have camped on the bark mulch and pavement without civic permits since Oct. 15.

Grey Cup committee general manager Scott Ackles said the art gallery plaza is not a venue for the Nov. 24-27 Canadian Football League championship festivities.

"From the festival standpoint, there has been no planning around that area," Ackles said.

All official Grey Cup events are planned for the Vancouver Convention Centre and Robson and Beatty streets outside B.C. Place Stadium. Ackles said the Nov. 26 parade would not pass the art gallery.

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