The removal of Occupy Austin’s semi-permanent encampment from City Hall on Friday night caught many off guard – most of all, the Occupiers themselves.
The Occupy Austin Twitter account stated they received the city's “Notice of Change to City Hall Building Use Policy," at approximately 10 p.m. – the new cut-off time for assembly at the City Hall plaza.
“We have made these revisions in an effort to balance the interests of City residents in having access to the City Hall property for legitimate purposes with our need to manage the increasing problems at City Hall related to criminal activity, damage to City property, and health concerns,” City Manager Marc Ott wrote in a memo outlining the changes.
The changes read as follows:
• Reservations are required for any organized non-City usage or group event inside the City Hall building, and for the amphitheater and mezzanine. Groups may reserve these areas under the current usage reservation rules.
• The plaza, amphitheater, and mezzanine continue to be designated as free speech areas with the following limitations to protect public health, safety and welfare, and to provide for the orderly conduct of City business.
• The plaza, mezzanine, and amphitheater areas may not be used for non- City business or activities before 6 a.m. or after 10 p.m. This limitation does not apply to an event that occurs while a public meeting of the City Council or a City board or commission is ongoing in City Hall. The plaza, mezzanine, or amphitheater areas may be closed at other times if Building Services determines that closure is required for inspection, maintenance or cleaning. A person may not interfere with inspection, maintenance or cleaning of the property.
• Sleeping, camping, and the use or storage of sleeping equipment are prohibited on the plaza, mezzanine, and amphitheater areas at all times. Leaving unattended personal property on those areas is prohibited at all times. A person may not erect a structure or tent on those areas without prior written approval of Building Services as part of the reservation process.
• The plaza area may be reserved for non-City usage in accord with the procedures in the building usage policy. Any such reserved usage will take precedence over a non-reserved use.
The Occupiers have taken issue with some of Ott's statements, and have elected to protest his actions.
City officials have tentatively voiced support for Ott’s change in policy. Mayor Lee Leffingwell told the Statesman, “There's been a lot of discussion by myself, and others I assume, about the sustainability of it, and that something had to be done.”
Council member Kathie Tovo said she too supported the change. But she said the Occupiers (and presumably their homeless contingent) should have been given more advance notice so they could make new plans.
That confusion on where to go seemed evident in marches from City Hall that Occupy Austin lead on both Friday and Saturday. At one point on Saturday, protesters marching through Sixth Street sat out what was described as a sizable police presence by waiting in Roppolo’s Pizza downtown.
One place the local chapter of the Occupy movement may ultimately gravitate to is a coffee shop and event space: the not-yet-opened Legion Coffeeshop.
A website describes the space thusly:
The Legion in Austin, TX began as an idea for a hub for the activities of Occupy Austin. Soon the group realized that many activist organizations could benefit from a 24 hour space devoted to building a sense of community and a safe space for sharing ideas and learning from each other.
The space will act as a central hub for art, a library and a meeting and fundraiser space open to local organizations who share in our core values of non-violence, democracy, equality and change.
The page describes the space as coming April 2012, absent further information.
While Occupy Austin is prohibited from overnight camping at City Hall, the group is still using the plaza for meetings. A general assembly meeting is happening there tonight at 7 p.m.