It's time for the denizens of the Occupy Santa Rosa encampment to choose.

Are they making a statement about the growing chasm between the rich and everyone else? About the political clout wielded by Wall Street banks? About elected officials catering to wealthy campaign donors?

Or do they just want the freedom to pee on trees?

The choice is really that simple, and if the demonstrators can't decide by today, the City Council can't be blamed for evicting them from the City Hall lawn.

The tents on the lawn are evidence of public sympathy for the Occupy movement, which has spread across the country and around the world.

Occupy has focused national attention on foreclosures, unemployment and an economic system that has allowed the top 1 percent to prosper despite the worst downturn since the Great Depression. The Occupy movement has a chance to set the agenda for the 2012 campaign much as the tea party set the agenda in 2010.

But the Santa Rosa City Council isn't the source of these disparities, and creating a public nuisance outside City Hall won't change economic policy or amplify the message of the local demonstrators.

The fact is city officials have gone out of their way up to now to accommodate them.

After demonstrators turned their daily protests into a round-the-clock encampment about two weeks ago, the council rejected a staff request to evict them and temporarily waived the city's no-camping ordinance.

But the council wanted a show of good faith in return, asking the demonstrators to obtain permits and establish guidelines for safety and sanitation at the encampment.

After more than a week of negotiations, there's still no agreement. Too many of the demonstrators and their supporters blithely dismiss concerns about crime, garbage, a dangerous lack of access for emergency personnel and even people relieving themselves in public.

"Trampled grass, litter, pee under a tree and pot smoke are nothing compared to the devastation — economically, environmentally, militarily — that is occurring because of a very few who have no regard for anyone but themselves," Susan Lamont told the City Council on Tuesday.

Maybe not, but making a mess of the City Hall lawn has nothing to do with solving those problems either. Instead it makes it difficult for people who need to do business at City Hall, and it detracts from the original purpose of the Occupy demonstrations.

There is no conflict between First Amendment rights and the city's no-camping ordinance. If the demonstrators want to keep their tents on the City Hall lawn, they need to satsify concerns about public health and safety.

Despite their frustration, council members put off a decision on a continued waiver of the no-camping ordinance at their meeting on Tuesday. But they scheduled a special meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday to decide.

There's still time for a deal, but the clock is running.