By SAM SCOTT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sebastopol City Council met Thursday to discuss how to respond to protesters if they begin camping in the town’s plaza this weekend.
City officials have been left guessing about the intent of Occupy Sebastopol organizers since finding fliers earlier this week calling for protesters to convene at the plaza Saturday with signs, food and tents.
The fliers — along with similar posts online — have raised worries of an encampment developing similar to Occupy Santa Rosa, in a central part of the city’s downtown.
“No one has stepped up from the Occupy Sebastopol movement so we don’t have direct information,” Mayor Guy Wilson said. “There’s a lot of speculation.”
So far protesters in Sonoma County have appeared only in Santa Rosa and Petaluma.
Camping in Sebastopol’s downtown could cause an immediate conflict with the Farmers Market, which begins setting up in the plaza in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Others on the council said a prolonged protest could affect business and attract illegal behavior.
Councilman Patrick Slayter said he’d been at Santa Rosa City Hall on business earlier Thursday and noted signs of drug use among some protesters camped there.
“I saw not just a little bit of illicit drug use going on,” he said. “I worry about what the movement is becoming.”
Council members discussed how to respond if campers arrive, including a suggestion to offer them alternative sites to stay; that idea was shot down for liability reasons.
Camping in city parks, including the plaza, is against Sebastopol ordinances, but council members shied away from endorsing a crackdown.
“I think we ensure a good turnout if we say they can’t occupy the plaza,” said Michael Kyes, the city’s vice mayor, adding he thought protesters intent on causing disruption would otherwise be drawn to protests like Occupy Oakland.
“I don’t think we need to do anything to provoke anything,” he said.
Ultimately, council members opted for a wait-and-see approach, saying they trusted the city’s Police Department to respond appropriately.
Police Chief Jeff Weaver said officers would respond with citations and arrests only as a last resort if problems such as a conflict with the Farmers Market could not be dealt with in other ways.