Mayor leaves for overseas trip, but doesn't plan to clear parks

Mayor leaves for overseas trip, but doesn't plan to clear parks »Play Video
Portland Mayor Sam Adams answers questions Thursday why he hasn't taken steps to clear Occupy Portland protesters from city parks.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Occupy Portland is two weeks old and right before he leaves for an overseas business trip, Mayor Sam Adams gave no indication Thursday he intends to bring it to an end.

He left for a 10-day trip to Asia in the afternoon where he'll promote Portland's clean energy businesses. But before he did, he offered his support for the occupy movement and said there has been no discussion about moving protesters or enforcing city camping laws.

Adams was asked to address the Portland Business Alliance's request to the city to get rid of the tents and camping equipment inside Lownsdale and Chapman squares and to ensure the two parks were open for the entire public to utilize.

He offered no response to the business group, saying he imagined chambers of commerce in other cities were sending similar letters. Then he noted the letters of support he's received for protesters.

The mayor sees the protest location as strategic for the city in that there are few businesses immediately nearby, few residences and, with Main Street reopened, traffic is flowing.
But he said the decision to allow the camping to continue is also based on the peaceful nature of the protest so far.

"The behavior really does matter," Adams said during a news conference. "The location matters, the behavior matters in terms of how we strike that balance of discretion."

He said the city is enforcing its drug and alcohol laws and "we are choosing not to enforce the park closure laws, and the city's anti-camping laws on these two blocks."

Adams said the city is not allowing medical marijuana usage in the public parks, even inside of tents. But the smell of marijuana is still easily detected throughout the campsite.

He denied showing the progressive protesters favoritism, saying he would treat the anti-homosexual demonstrators from the Westboro Baptist Church the same way.

In choosing not to enforce the law for the past two weeks, however, the city is racking up costs for police overtime and damage to the city parks.

But Adams said he's not enforcing the law for this particular group because "If we were to arrest everybody for violating the camping ordinance or a whole bunch of other infractions, we wouldn't have a place to hold everybody. We use discretion."

He said the city won't know police overtime costs until early November but so far $19,000 in damage has been done to the parks.

With the mayor in Asia, City Commissioner Amanda Fritz will be in charge in an emergency situation. But without a major incident, Adams will stay in control of the police response even though he's overseas.

Meanwhile, inside Portland's occupation, it's an organized campsite, and it's a sign demonstrators plan to stay for the long haul.

"I have a home that I would rather be in right now, except for the fact that this is something I feel I need to do for my country and for my community," said William Holtz, who sleeps at the protest site.

He is one of many protesters who see camping as essential to getting their message of frustration and anger across.

"I think it's one of the most important things because it's the best way that we can demonstrate a strong demonstration without violence. It's probably one of the most mild ways that we can break the law," Holtz said.