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Quan, Under Attack, Changes Course on Occupy Oakland

Mayor reopens plaza to protesters, promises dialogue and "minimum police presence" if demonstrations stay peaceful

Santana, Quan and Batts Occupy Presser Oct. 26

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, under attack from inside and outside her administration, announced late Wednesday that Occupy Oakland can return to the plaza in front of City Hall, an abrupt reversal that followed a night of street violence Tuesday and widespread criticism over her handling of the crisis.

As more than 1,000 people descended on Frank H. Ogawa Plaza Wednesday night, Quan called for "a minimum police presence" and said nonviolent protesters would be allowed to re-occupy the area near City Hall. One day earlier, with Quan's authorization, 400 police officers had dismantled the tent city.

Quan has been facing a growing firestorm over what some describe as a tentative, out-of-touch approach to the crisis. Earlier, Quan admitted that she had not known that police were planning to evict the protesters early Tuesday morning, saying only that she had signed off on the plan. 

Dan Siegel, the mayor's longtime friend and legal adviser, said he was considering resigning over the raid. He added that city officials were divided over how to handle Occupy Oakland.

“I think a big mistake was made yesterday. A big mistake,” Siegel said during an appearance on the plaza. “I have made that clear to the mayor.”

Quan's Facebook page was filled with calls for her resignation Wednesday. After protesters distributed her cell phone number, her voicemail inbox was full. An online petition condemning Quan and City Council members for authorizing the raid has collected 1,500 signatures.

The announcements Wednesday were designed to placate the protesters, but Occupy Oakland also appeared to be dictating events. The city initially re-opened only a concrete portion of the plaza in front of City Hall, encircling the lawn where protesters had camped with a 6-foot chainlink fence. But protesters calmly removed the fence in the early evening, and some protesters began to lay down sleeping bags and drive tent stakes into the grass.

Later, Quan said Occupy Oakland would be allowed to stay on the lawn, which the city administrator previously described as a "biohazard," as long as the occupation was peaceful. Quan said she planned to "open up channels of communication" with th protesters.

"I’m a mayor of a city that has divided opinions on some things," Quan said. "I think most support the Occupy Wall Street movement. I know you guys don’t like that I look at things day by day, situation by situation. We’re going to do what keeps most people safe."

City finance officials now expect the costs of the eviction, cleanup and response to the protests to surpass $1 million, with at least half going to police overtime, according to sources familiar with the projections.

“Wall Street’s not going broke, but the city of Oakland will,” one finance official said. “We’re spending money on resources we definitely don’t have.”

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