Occupy Santa Rosa camping permits could lead to evictions

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Santa Rosa last week agreed to give camping permits to protesters occupying City Hall, but many of them may still face eviction.

The city estimates that 100 to 120 tents are currently pitched on the north and west lawns of City Hall as part of the Occupy Santa Rosa encampment.

But the city has mapped the area and is planning to grant permits for 57 camping sites on the property, meaning half or more of those now camping might not get permits and will still be forced to leave. The city hopes to begin issuing permits today on a first-come, first-served basis.

"This is the best system we've been able to identify," Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips said. "We feel that it's fair and open and it protects the health and safety of those who chose to camp as well as those visiting City Hall to do business."

It has been a challenge for the city to develop a system to accept and review applications, issue and track the permits and find the staff to perform the work in such a short period of time, said Phillips, who worked on the project over the weekend.

"This is a massive undertaking," said Phillips, who is in charge of the permit effort.

Details of the program were still being worked out Monday, including time and location where the permits will be processed.

One protester predicted the limitation will not be well received, especially given the hesitation many protesters initially showed about limiting the duration and size of the encampment.

"Let the games begin," said Ricardo Roybal, a 27-year-old Santa Rosa Junior College student. "I think people will not want to leave, and they'll hang out until someone makes them leave."

The city met with representatives of the group Monday to discuss the permit procedure and requirements.

The city came up with 57 spaces based on a number of conditions, including the topography, landscaping, bathroom and hand-washing facilities available, and the space needed to safely pitch a tent, Phillips said.

"We're working very hard to identify reasonable camp sites that can work for this very special situation," she said.

The limitation on the number of campsites is just one of the new details of the permit program. Who needs to get one also has changed.

Initially, the city envisioned each tent owner getting a permit and listing who is staying in it. But now every person seeking to camp on the property needs to get an individual permit tied to one of the 57 sites. Each site is 15-by-15-feet, and a maximum of four people are allowed to stay in each tent.

That means a tent with four people staying in it will need to have four permit tags affixed to the tent, Phillips said.

The permit holders also need to allow the city to take their photograph, which will become part of the permit.

"We need to match the permit to the person," Phillips said.

The permits are good for 15 days after which a new application must be submitted. A camper can apply to get a permit five days before a space opens up, again on a first-come, first-served basis, Phillips said. Any member of the public can apply.

When and how the city would begin taking action against those camping without permits has not yet been determined, Phillips said.

City Hall is closed between Nov. 18 and Nov. 27, in part because of mandatory furloughs to save money. How or whether permits will be processed during this period, or a similar stretch at the end of December, remains to be seen.

"We have some logistical things to work out," she said.

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