Occupy Sebastopol protesters apply for camping permit

Occupy Sebastopol demonstrators made a last-minute application Tuesday night for a special events permit that would allow them to continue camping at the town plaza.

City Manager Jack Griffin said the permit would be evaluated and a decision handed down by the end of the day Wednesday.

It kept alive, however, an issue of illegal camping that the City Council had hoped to resolve Tuesday night.

"There has been a de facto permit with no enforcement," said Mayor Guy Wilson. "It is better served if we have this (decided) sooner than later."

Depending if the city staff denies the application or applies conditions that are challenged, it may also mean another special council meeting later this week, Griffin said.

Occupy Sebastopol protesters have been at the town plaza since Nov. 5 and erected a small community, with six sleeping tents, a first-aid tent, a supply tent and a communications tent.

The number of participants during the day may be about 15 and as many as eight have slept overnight, but there have only been two people staying overnight the past few nights.

The city has not enforced its ordinance banning camping, but the City Council last Wednesday ordered the group to apply for a special events permit.

Petaluma attorney David Bush, who said he was retained by Occupy Sebastopol on Monday, filed the permit application at the council meeting. He asked the city to waive the fee, which could be $350 to $600, and the need for insurance.

At the same time, Bush argued that the camping should be considered free speech, despite the contrary ruling on Tuesday by a Supreme Court judge in the Occupy Wall Street case.

"The municipal permit doesn't speak to what is happening at the park and across the country," Bush said. "What is happening is free speech and peaceful assembly."

More than a dozen people spoke in support of the protest.

"All of us are committed to seeing the movement in Sebastopol become a model for across the country," said Lance Lancaster of Sebastopol, a Healdsburg High School teacher.

Sebastopol Police Chief Jeff Weaver said officers visit the camp nightly to talk to the inhabitants, make sure they have the police department's direct phone number and to assess their well-being.

The protest has been peaceful, but police have made three arrests of people with outstanding warrants.

The latest was Tuesday morning, when Daniel J. Flynn, 21, of Long Beach, was arrested on an outstanding $2,000 warrant for alcohol-related offenses.

Police on Sunday arrested two men, identified as transients, at the camp on outstanding warrants on drug and theft charges.

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