LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - City officials have offered Occupy L.A. protesters 10,000 square feet of indoor space and other incentives to vacate the City Hall lawn they have camped on for over seven weeks, a lawyer for the group said on Tuesday.
The proposal emerged from two days of talks between city officials and 12 Occupy L.A. representatives, including Jim Lafferty, an advocate for the protesters who is executive director of the National Lawyers Guild’s Los Angeles chapter, he said.
A 50-member “city liaison group” began debating the plan on Tuesday evening, and many expressed deep suspicions about the city’s proposal.
“It’s called co-option -- you become part of the system when you make a deal with them,” said Mike Saulenas, 60, a member of the group.
The Los Angeles encampment is among the oldest and largest established on the West Coast by anti-Wall Street activists aligned with a two-month old nationwide movement protesting economic inequality in the country and corruption in the U.S. financial system.
Staking its place since October 1 on the grounds surrounding City Hall, the compound has grown to roughly 400 tents and 700 to 800 people, according to estimates by organizers and municipal officials.
One protester in charge of producing media for the group, Clark Davis, said homeless people account for 30 to 40 percent of the camp’s regular denizens.
Compared to other major cities, Los Angeles has been relatively accommodating to the group, with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at one point even providing rain ponchos to campers during inclement weather.
According to Lafferty, the city has offered to lease 10,000 square feet of space in an old bookstore inside a downtown shopping mall for $1 a year for 10 years, as well as two plots of land on which members of the group could grow their own food. He did not specify how much acreage was involved.
In addition, the city promised to provide shelter for the camp’s homeless population.
Lafferty said some members of the group were “upset” by the offer while others “were thrilled with it. There’s difference of opinion on everything here, and that’s good.”
It was not clear whether the city had set a deadline for the group to accept or reject the offer. But Lafferty told Reuters, “We know the city is going to eventually move in here.”
Villaraigosa spokesman Peter Sanders declined by email to discuss details of the talks, saying only, “We are in discussions with representatives of Occupy LA based on a mutual understanding that City Hall is not a sustainable site for the protest to continue indefinitely.”
Ryan Rice, 27, a former college student and one of the group’s negotiators, said one of Villaraigosa’s deputies, Matt Szabo, told them the mayor was growing “impatient” with the continuing occupation.
Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Bohan