By SAM SCOTT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
City officials granted Occupy Petaluma a 24-hour permit extension Wednesday, giving the protesters a day to fix compliance issues before they receive permission for a longer stay.
The protesters have kept a small overnight presence in downtown Petaluma at Penry Park for the past month marked by a a single large canopy tent. Unlike some other Bay Area cities, including Santa Rosa, Petaluma officials have had few issues with the protesters.
“They continue to be very collaborative, very open, very sincere with trying to comply with all terms of the permit,” said Scott Brodhun, Petaluma’s assistant city manager.
Still Brodhun said the camp had minor violations Wednesday, including a close-sided tent, which is not allowed, and potted bamboo plants used to screen the canopy from a neighbor, who complained about having to look at it.
If the issues are taken care of, Brodhun said he’s likely to extend the permit again, potentially for a week.
At least some neighbors are hoping for a change of scenery. Heather Marie Thorson and her boyfriend painted an ocean scene on a large canvas, which they erected next to the protesters to block their bedroom view of the camp. The city ordered it taken down.
“It was just a screen so every morning when we woke up we didn’t have to be ‘occupied,’” said Thorson, who lives across from the park and feels rules are being applied unfairly to benefit the protesters. “I just don’t think it’s necessary to sleep there.”
Otherwise, though, Occupy Petaluma seems to be enjoying a more cordial connection with its host city than many Occupy movements.
Unlike Occupy protesters in Santa Rosa, the Petaluma group got a permit before starting its camp and has largely limited its presence to one large canopy and a storage tent. Police Chief Dan Fish said there have been few complaints.
While some Santa Rosa protesters got arrested picketing banks, Petaluma protesters have been in discussions with credit unions and banks.
Greg Morgan, regional president for Wells Fargo Bank, said he’s been talking to one of the protesters, Tim Nonn, asking him to come up with concrete, realistic suggestions the bank could take to deal with foreclosures.
At its most recent meeting, the City Council endorsed the protesters’ idea of a holiday foreclosure moratorium, asking banks to refrain from evictions during the holidays.
On Friday, Occupy Petaluma is holding a foreclosure prevention outreach training session at the UCC Petaluma church.
Some at Occupy Petaluma see such success as validation of their approach.
“No one responds well to ‘in-your-face,’” said Rob Nasser, sweeping the camp Tuesday morning. “We’re working with the city on the small things so that we can focus our energy on the more important issues.”
Nonn said their collaborative approach developed organically. Petaluma is a small community where protesters’ kids may go to school with those of police officers.
But Nonn, who lost a home to foreclosure after his job was outsourced, said the protesters may still resort to more abrasive tactics like blocking bank entrances.
“If the banks refuse to collaborate and dialog with us, then yes, direct action will be necessary,” he said. “It’s not something we are planning now because we are having more success with the collaborative approach.”
Despite the differing tactics in Santa Rosa and Petaluma, some protesters choose both. One man, who quietly attended last week’s Petaluma City Council meeting to support the foreclosure moratorium, was at Santa Rosa Plaza last Friday, unfurling signs and singing in a “flash mob” protest calling for a boycott of Black Friday.
In Santa Rosa, the permits allowing about 40 people to pitch tents outside City Hall will expire at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, and the city is hoping people break camp voluntarily.
Health, safety and sanitation problems persist at the site and have convinced city officials to cancel the controversial permit program, said Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips.
The city will continue to urge people to voluntarily leave the site, she said. Several of the current campers, most of whom are homeless and unconnected to the Occupy Santa Rosa protesters, say they plan to move on.
Last week, 50 officers clad in riot gear removed the belongings of unpermitted protesters in an early morning operation that was peaceful and resulted in no arrests. This time around, “we really hope that’s not necessary,” Phillips said.
After cleaning up the lawn, the city may take another look at the emergency ordinance that legalized the encampment, Phillips said.
Staff Writer Kevin McCallum contributed to this story