Occupiers “Going to Surf City, Gonna Have Some Fun!” (Part 1)

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Huntington Beach civic plaza

Huntington Beach Civic Center Plaza at sunset. (Warning: plaza is near Huntington Beach High School.)

(This is Part 1 of a series, and is relatively light-hearted.  Unfortunately, Part 2, appearing later today or tomorrow, won’t be.)

This post was originally to be entitled “Why does the Mayor of Huntington Beach want the Occupy protesters near a High School?”  Thankfully, that take on events is now obsolete — but an interesting story lies behind it.

Disclosure: both I and my Esteemed Publisher Vern Nelson are involved with the Occupy Orange County movement and have been involved to various extents with the events of this story, primarily as liaisons with the city government.  (We’re also role models, of course.  We accept that burden.)  I’m a Civic Liaison, meaning that I negotiate as needed with the city government, police departments, and the like — and as I’ve been doing this the longest and am now being solicited by AARP, I think that I’ll now decree myself the Senior Civic Liaison!

When last I wrote about Occupy Orange County a week ago, the encampment that had moved from Irvine to Fullerton was preparing to leave its second home.  It spent until last Wednesday morning in the Brea Dam campsite, with an advance group already dispatched to the third municipal target — Huntington Beach.  If you’re already familiar with the background and just want the news, go ahead and jump to the third subtitle.

The Mysterious Structure of Occupy OC

For those of you who are confused, Occupy Orange County has had three components.  (It wasn’t planned that way; it just happened.)

  1. There’s the permanent group in Occupy Santa Ana, which on October 22 was the first one to try to establish an overnight presence, by civil disobedience, and was broken up by police.  It continues to plan on civil disobedience as necessary, focusing on the county seat and the “capital of Orange County homelessness.”
  2. Then there’s the continuing encampment — which probably should be but hasn’t been called the Occupy Orange County Encampment.  From what I can tell it is literally the longest continuous Occupy camp in the nation — and possibly the world.  (Chew on that!)  It has taken the name of the city that houses it, so for its first 88 days is was Occupy Irvine, then for the next 56 days was Occupy Fullerton, and now since March 7 has become Occupy Huntington Beach.  (Some of us have started to speak of this odd creature, which today at 10 a.m. finishes its 150th consecutive day of 24/7 occupation — that’s 3600 hours without a gap, if you haven’t done the math — as the “traveling carnival” or the “road show.”Its purpose is much like those sorts of institutions — to bring entertainment and edification to the masses where they live.  This sort of thing is just not supposed to happen in staid and conservative Orange County, yet here it is and there it goes, bringing hope — and a reminder that others share the same concerns that many people covertly do about the direction of the country — to residents who aren’t used to seeing more than single-day protests (if that) in their neighborhoods.  Judging by the car honks, people appreciate it.
  3. Finally (and often forgotten), there are little Occupy groups who appreciate and want to emulate what the original Occupy Wall Street protests were doing in their own communities.  I have been told that there is (or has been) at least an Occupy San Clemente, an Occupy Laguna Niguel, an Occupy Villa Park — OK, I made that one up — and … an Occupy Huntington Beach, the nose of which I hope is not out of joint at the new kids on the block.  The true course of activist nomenclature is never smooth.

Our Fullerton Days

The theory is that we’re supposed to work out where we’re going next before we leave one city and make contacts for a smooth transition to the next one.  On that score, we are now 0 for 2.  We just showed up at Fullerton, where a few of our most active members had ties, on Wednesday, January 11 — having decided (against my recommendation) that that would be our target only the previous Sunday night.  This had precipitated a call from me to Fullerton Mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva that I think started with something like “I have some interesting news for you….”

That call ended up with our being placed in a meeting with City Manager Joe Felz, Acting Police Chief Dan Hughes, and Assemblyman Bruce Whitaker.  (I read complaints sometimes about Felz and Hughes on blogs such as FFFF; all I can say from personal experience, without commenting on anything else, is that they took what could have been a difficult situation of a bunch of strangers showing up and demanding the right to protest for weeks and they simply defused it.  They were serious, professional, and a pleasure to deal with.  Then again, we were not exactly the worst thing that they’d had to deal with this past year; maybe we were a nice change of pace.)

They had gotten word from Irvine that it we were treated gently we were not likely to break anything, and so they worked out for us to go to the Brea Dam, for which I fronted the money, which after a while turned into an extended stay in the Duck Pond at the corner of Harbor and Brea, part of Hillcrest Park.  This led to a pretty happy camp, a good amount of outreach to the community and the local colleges, and a great party as a send-off.  But we had said we wouldn’t be there more than two months and we try to keep our word, so it was time to leave.

Again: we tried to figure out where we were going next, and that was not going well.  Some people had ties to Huntington Beach.  I again said “no, I think there are better choices” — and I was again ignored.  This seems to be a developing tradition, but so far it has worked out OK.

Arriving in Surf City

The advance team that marks a new host city with the invisible Occupy special sauce that means that nothing they do can turn us away from arriving made its initial foray on Monday the 5th (or so).  We first head to the City Hall area; it’s just what we tend to do.  (Blame the influence of Occupy LA.)  Our goal, however, is to create a agreement with the City to tolerate our presence so long as we act legally (as we do.)  By Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, the rest of the Occupy protesters had arrived — with the exception of a few break-off stragglers who chose to stay in Brea Dam without paying, the general consensus about whom among the rest of us was that we could not forcibly move them to Huntington Beach but that we were unclear on what they thought they would accomplish there, and so adieu.

Unless we quickly come to an arrangement with the new city, as happened in Fullerton, our practice is to just stand up all night and follow the law until we come to an agreement that it’s better for us to be planted on the ground overnight rather than walking around.  So that’s what we did — except for the first few nights Occupiers were also not sleeping during the day, a combination of sleepless hours that eventually may lead to hallucinations, dementia, and death.  (The things we do for you people!)

One game we get to play in this situation is called “Who does anyone know on City Council?”  In my case, Joe Shaw is a friend of a friend.  (We’ve met a few times and I enjoyed his extremely funny speech at a OC Young Democrats event last summer.  The next part of this recap will be from memory; for reasons that will be clear, I don’t have time to reconstruct a timeline.  So I got a message to him letting him know to feel welcome to contact with me if there were difficulties.

Saturday morning, I got a call: there were difficulties.  The problem is that the City Hall is across from a high school.  That creates all sort of problems for parents and others — and an opportunity (or so they think) for politicians who want to score points against the Occupy movement.  Huntington Beach Mayor Don Hansen seemed to be in the latter category, whipping up antagonism towards Occupy by using our (unintended) proximity to the high school as a rallying cry.

There seemed to be a simple solution: move.  Joe suggested a potential extended-term site, if things could be worked out, though it would cost us something.  In the short term, he suggested that we relocate from the City Hall area to someplace mutually agreeable along PCH.  This made a lot of sense — and it was good to be in touch with someone on the City Council who wanted to de-escalate the situation rather than stoke the fires of conflict.  We would, after all, want the votes of the City Council to allow us to stay lawfully in any weeks-long encampment — and we pretty clearly weren’t going to get the Mayor’s vote, so that meant that we’d need 4 out of the remaining 6.

I got a call later in the day from Mike Anderson, our Civic Liaison in Huntington Beach.  Two sites were being discussed on PCH.  Occupiers liked the idea of being right at PCH & Main Street, at the HB pier, where there’s a free speech zone (during the day) and an amphitheater.  But Mike said that the City preferred for us to be at PCH and Beach, where there was still good traffic flow but where we would not be as much in the face of the beloved tourists.

I spoke to Joe briefly on the phone and asked him point blank: how important would it be to the City for the Occupiers to be, even temporarily, at Beach rather than at Main?  His answer: VERY important.  It would be the sort of show of good faith that might show the Council that we recognized their concern with the tourist trade and did not want to create problems for the City.  As with Irvine, as with Fullerton, we wanted to be good neighbors and to get along with the City.

On Monday, I got the word from Mike.  We had moved off from near the High School on Sunday and were now on PCH — and people had agreed that, in a show of good faith and willingness to cooperate, we’d be at Beach Boulevard rather than Main.  The prospect for a mutually agreeable long-term stay looked reasonable.  We were on a path towards peaceful coexistence, yet again.

Trouble brews

And then, the next morning, after sunrise people the HB Police arrived at PCH and Beach gave everyone there misdemeanor citations for (I’m told) “lodging” — an offense I couldn’t find by that name based on a quick check of the HB municipal code, though I did find lots else there that looked unconstitutional.  I’m told by Mike and others that the City Manager, Chief of Police, and City Attorney all seemed to have been reasonable to that point, so I still don’t know who was behind this amazingly stupid decision to arrest people — that’s what a citation is, a non-custodial arrest — in what was to have been the safe haven to which they had been directed, especially given the alternative (used in Irvine) of using discretion to give people a warning first.

It was too late.  The “first shot was fired” — and then things started going quickly to hell.  Whoever the person was who directed the arrest of the encampment had wanted a fight with Occupy — and will have gotten it.  The people who were most reasonable were driven off, and the people who remained — largely ones from out of town who were not steeped in or committed to the “Occupy OC” way — were the least reasonable.

People who want aggressive conflict — on either side — usually get their way, although Occupy OC had lasted for almost five full months without it. Now the people — me among them — who had promised safety to campers had failed to deliver; it was no real surprise what would happen next.

The mistake of whoever in the City provoked the fight was thinking that it would end soon.  I’ll still work towards that, as will anyone on the City Council and in City Government still willing to talk to me.  More on that in Part 2.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 (in violation of Roberts Rules) when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Expelled from DPOC in October 2018 (in violation of Roberts Rules) for having endorsed Spitzer over Rackauckas -- which needed to be done. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. One of his daughters co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)