November 22, 2011 - 2:01 am
A three-month extension that will allow Occupy Las Vegas to remain at its encampment near the Thomas & Mack Center until Feb. 20 is coming under fire by some Clark County commissioners who disapprove of the group’s protest last week.
County management signed off on the additional 90 days Friday, one day after 21 protesters were arrested for stopping traffic on northbound Las Vegas Boulevard in front of the federal courthouse.
County management said that the meeting with protesters to extend the permit was scheduled before officials knew the protest was taking place and that more time was needed to better assess the project.
Occupy Las Vegas is a local chapter of the Occupy Wall Street movement against corporate greed and influence in politics.
Commissioner Steve Sisolak said the board should discuss the permit at a future meeting to figure out what happens once it expires.
"I was really disappointed at the civil disobedience part," Sisolak said. "They absolutely told me that wasn’t going to occur, which is why I was supportive of the idea. … I was unaware there was even an extension applied for until I found out it was already granted."
Commissioner Larry Brown didn’t care for Friday’s protest either.
"It’s a cost to our public safety and resources," he said. "I certainly respect their right to protest, to gather and to express themselves, but when that starts adversely impacting public resources, then I think we’d revisit permitting and allowing them to use our site."
Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody said on-duty officers responded to the protest, so there was no overtime cost to the department.
He added that the occupation site has been quiet, with police being called only for two minor disputes among protesters.
"We’re very satisfied with how people have conducted themselves and have no problem with the extension at all," Moody said.
Protester Sebring Frehner said he understood commissioners’ concerns, characterizing the board’s approval of the occupation site as "a pretty huge favor."
"A lot of people say the occupation shouldn’t be reliant on a single piece of land granted by politicians, that we should not rely on the good graces of politicians," Frehner said. "We do appreciate what they’ve done for us. They’ve allowed for a degree of growth that wouldn’t have otherwise existed without them. We’re going through extraordinary times. Recognizing that, they’re allowing for extraordinary measures, and that’s unusual."
Protesters eyeing store parking lots
Frehner said the group is looking to hold its meetings in the parking lots of Walmarts or shopping malls to get the word out about their cause in hopes of recruiting more members.
"I don’t know if the commissioners will like this or not, but this is how the movement is evolving," he said.
Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she had no problem with the group’s protest last week.
"It’s their constitutional right to let the government know they have concerns with it," she said.
About 30 people have been living at the 1.4-acre swath of county land near Paradise Road and Swenson Street since Oct. 21. According to protesters, about half of the people camping at the site are homeless, who must follow camp rules that prohibit drugs, alcohol and weapons.
help for homeless might be coming
Protesters are expected to meet with social service representatives today to discuss what resources are available to homeless occupiers.
"We’re trying to make this less of an end point and more of a thoroughfare," Frehner said. "We want to welcome homeless or newly homeless and point them in a direction to get the resources available. We’re trying to prevent it from becoming a new homeless camp."
Protester James Kimmel has been homeless for three months. The clean- cut 59-year-old took a job as a union worker at CityCenter but is now unemployed. He lost his apartment and his two dogs to a lack of work and a gambling problem.
"It’s not a homeless encampment, but it’s open to homeless people," Kimmel said. "We’ll share food with them. … But it’s not just a place to come and just be a homeless person and not help out here. If you’re homeless and you come here, there are expectations, not just to camp out. You need to support this community. You gain security, food and the benefits and resources available."
Giunchigliani said the encampment provides an opportunity to connect with homeless people and find them housing, medical care and VA resources.
"Since they’re there, let’s try to get them off the streets," she said. "If we find an enclave, let’s see if we can get them in social services. We have a good homeless coordination program; why wouldn’t we take advantage of that to some extent?"
Commissioner Mary Beth Scow, who represents the area, said that while homeless people should have access to resources, Occupy Las Vegas is not the group that should be dealing with that.
"I think they’re better served by the agencies better equipped to handle them," Scow said.
Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@ reviewjournal.com or 455-4519.