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Occupy L.A. cost city at least $2.35 million, study finds

The expenses, mostly from overtime, add to the city's $72-million shortfall and don't include repairs to the grounds at City Hall. Activists accuse officials of making them scapegoats.

December 24, 2011|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • The Los Angeles Police Department, which raided the Occupy L.A. camp Nov. 30, spent an estimated $1.2 million on overtime.
The Los Angeles Police Department, which raided the Occupy L.A. camp Nov.… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Occupy L.A.'s two-month encampment in the downtown Civic Center has cost the city at least $2.35 million, not counting repairs to the lawn and fountain outside City Hall, according to a report issued Friday.

Much of that cost — more than $1.7 million — will be added to the city's growing pool of red ink in this year's budget. The Occupy bills will increase an anticipated $72-million shortfall over the next six months, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana said.

"In isolation, the cost is manageable. But in the context of a $72-million problem, it only made our challenge bigger," said Santana, the city's top budget analyst.

The Los Angeles Police Department, which raided the camp Nov. 30 and arrested nearly 300 people, spent an estimated $1.2 million on time-and-a-half overtime pay as a result of the demonstration and subsequent sweep, Santana said in his preliminary report. The General Services Department's police force, which patrols city parks and buildings, racked up an additional $335,000 of overtime.

Santana said $590,000 of the city's cost won't be added to the shortfall because some city workers who were assigned to the protest would have been on duty anyway — and therefore part of the budget.

The price tag released Friday was considerably smaller than the 2009 Michael Jackson memorial at Staples Center, which lasted a single day and cost $3.2 million, Santana said. It was more on a par with the 2009 Lakers parade, which had a $1.7-million price tag.

Carlos Marroquin, a representative of Occupy L.A., called the figures "outrageous" and argued that the city should have set aside money for special events and protests. He accused city leaders of trying to make the Occupy movement a scapegoat, and described the intense police response, which involved 1,400 officers, as unnecessary.

"This was a peaceful movement," he said. "They're the ones that decided to use that amount of police, that amount of force."

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement that Occupy L.A. was "one of those uncommon events no one can plan for." He sought to portray the Police Department's handling of the sweep as one that avoided costly lawsuits and legal settlements — a problem for the LAPD in previous years.

Meanwhile, City Atty. Carmen Trutanich is considering a lawsuit against the protesters, one that would seek reimbursement for damage caused during the occupation. "The city is contemplating any and all of its options," said William Carter, Trutanich's chief deputy.

Demonstrators erected tents and other displays on the lawn outside City Hall last fall as a way of protesting an array of economic issues, including income inequality and bank foreclosures. Villaraigosa and the City Council allowed the encampment to continue for weeks, choosing not to enforce a ban on sleeping overnight in city parks.

Santana's three-page cost analysis did not include projections for the repair and replacement of the lawn outside City Hall, which is now surrounded by an eight-foot fence. Jon Mukri, general manager of the Department of Recreation and Parks, put that expense at $400,000 — a figure Santana described as an "early rough estimate."

The report did not include the cost of removing paint, graffiti and stickers from such surfaces as the historic Flint Fountain on the south lawn. It also lacked figures for any non-overtime salaries incurred by the Police Department, which have not been calculated yet.

Councilman Mitchell Englander predicted that the cost of the event will exceed $3 million once all the expenses are tallied.

"I'm disappointed that a few people who wanted to make a statement ended up costing taxpayers so much money at a time when L.A. doesn't have the cash," said Englander, a Republican. "Hopefully, now some of the council members who supported these efforts will realize there's a cost to residents before they make these decisions in the future."

Council President Eric Garcetti, a Democrat who personally told campers they could stay as long as they needed, had no comment on Santana's report.

"We don't have anything for you on this," spokeswoman Julie Wong told The Times in an email.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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