As a somewhat soggy peace and quiet returns to our downtown parks, officials are gathering estimates of the financial impact of the Occupy Portland movement.
The Portland Police Bureau, Portland Parks and Recreation and the Regional Arts and Culture Council are including overtime, repairs and cleanup costs in the estimates.
Chapman Square and Lownsdale Park, home to the Occupy Portland movement from Oct. 6 to Nov. 13, are now fenced off and awaiting restoration and repairs. The city is in the process of assessing the damage to the park, but Mike Ross, public information officer at Portland Parks and Recreation, expects the damage to fall between $50,000 and $100,000. The city is looking at reseeding and irrigation, structural, plumbing and electrical repairs. Ross is unsure when the estimates and repairs will be completed.
“Ideally, they would like to open pathways up again soon, but continue to keep the turf area fenced off,” Ross said.
Kip Silverman, point of contact for the Occupy Portland finance committee, will be requesting an audit of the city’s repair estimates citing concerns over what he feels are inflated numbers.
“Parks are reseeded annually…there may be preexisting issues, there are a number of nuances to be explored,” Silverman said. He would like to get specific details about recurring costs and damage that may have been caused by the encampment.
According to Silverman, the general assembly for the movement agreed at the onset of the protest to set aside a percentage of any funds raised for park restoration. He noted that the organization does not have much money, but landscapers and laborers who are willing to contribute resources towards repairing the park have approached the group.
A volunteer park clean-up day was scheduled for Nov. 28, but it was cancelled due to excessive rains.
On Nov. 22, Umpqua Bank donated $25,000 to a fund designated for park restoration. In a press release issued by Parks and Recreation, Umpqua Bank President and CEO Ray Davis said, “As a Portland-headquartered business, we believe we have an obligation to support our city and our beautiful parks…we are pleased to help.”
There are several statues and memorials located in the park, which are designated as historic landmarks: The Promised Land, Soldiers’ Monument, Fountain for Company H, and the Elk. Keith Lachowicz, art collections manager for RACC, checked on the pieces multiple times throughout the occupation and believes the damage will be minimal. There were concerns early on about people climbing on the elk, “but there was a great response from occupiers when they learned that they could potentially damage the statue,” Lachowicz said.
One piece of particular concern was the second Oregon Company Volunteer fountain on the west side of Lownsdale Park. Built in 1914, the fountain is very fragile. Lachowicz monitored it closely and said of the occupiers, “We had some very interesting philosophical debates about war monuments, but they ended up being pretty respectful.” The city screened the area off and placed a sign that read, “Please respect this fragile monument.” He noted that the screen was removed once and the city replaced it, but there was no significant damage.
According to Lachowicz, there was some graffiti found on the war memorials, but veterans within the movement spoke out and most of it was cleaned up.
RACC’s work will be last on the list of repairs for the parks. Once the parks are restored, “we’ll go in and do some polishing and re-waxing; it looks like cleanup may be all that is required, but a closer inspection could reveal more substantial damage,” Lachowicz said.
PPB has the highest costs associated with the protests. Lt. Robert King, public information officer for PPB, provided a breakdown of the costs. With over 24,000 hours logged, the department is looking at a $1.29 million total for police pay as of Nov. 21.
Silverman believes that this expense was unnecessary and a “tremendous waste of taxpayers’ money,” citing the movement as peaceful and nonviolent.
“The chief of police felt it necessary to have dedicated officers assigned to watch us; the resources of the police are theirs to do with as they see fit,” Silverman said.
Moving forward, with more protests and marches scheduled, Silverman said, “We want our marches to be safe and peaceful. As much as the city is willing to work with us, we are willing to work with the city. No one wants to see damage happening to our beautiful city.”
While the costs associated with the Occupy Movement appear to be significant, Randy Blazak, professor of sociology at PSU, feels that it is important to keep the costs in perspective.
“The Occupy movement is focused on the bad actions of those on Wall Street—actions which have cost the American people hundreds of billions of dollars, massive amounts of money because of the sub-prime mortgages, raiding of pension funds and so on,” Blazak said. “This movement is trying to end that. This is going to come at a cost [to the city], but it is nothing compared to the costs of the corruption of the banksters on Wall Street.”