S.F. Occupy activists evicted from building

Ellen Huet and Erin Allday
SF Chronicle, April 3, 2012

Police on Monday evicted and arrested nearly 80 Occupy activists who had taken over an empty San Francisco building the night before and had stockpiled bricks and supplies with the apparent intention of staying long-term.

Officers in riot gear stormed the two-story building at 888 Turk St. at about 1:15 p.m. after tearing down a barricade protesters built to block the main entrance, said police spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak.

The building, which is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, has been used as a music education facility by the archdiocese-associated nearby Sacred Heart Cathedral High School.

Occupy protester Beth Seligman said Monday morning that a few hundred people came into the building and stayed the night, but police said they believed that only about 80 people were inside Monday afternoon.

Activists said they chose to take over the building because they believed it has been vacant for five years and should be used as a center for health services and education instead of standing empty.

George Wesolek, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the activists were wrong about the building’s vacant status. The building was used for regular music classes until as recently as 18 months ago, Wesolek said. The archdiocese was also considering leasing out the building and using the revenue to help with financial aid for low-income Sacred Heart students, he said.

“This is definitely not a vacant building,” Wesolek said. “It’s not forgotten. It has a purpose.”

Late Sunday night, the archdiocese signed a citizens’ arrest for the occupiers on charges of trespassing and graffiti. By Monday afternoon, police said it had become clear the protesters were planning to stay in the building for quite a while, Andraychak said.

Demonstrators had “stockpiled” bricks and cans of paint on the roof of the building, he said, and they blocked windows and doors with plywood and stacks of chairs.

After police broke through the main door, protesters fled deeper into the building, barricading doors and stairways along the way, Andraychak said. One man jumped from a second-floor window to avoid police, but was caught soon after, he said.

There were no injuries during the arrests, Andraychak said.

The interior of the building on Monday afternoon, after the protesters had been removed, was covered in spray-painted graffiti and posters and photographs from previous Occupy events. There were signs on the walls to designate sleeping areas, “media free zones” and smoking rooms.

Protesters left behind sleeping bags and backpacks, guitars and a tambourine. A half-eaten sandwich sat on a crate in one room, and in the kitchen were boxes full of fresh fruits and vegetables. In one large room on the second floor, a bowl of dog food sat next to an empty bottle of tequila.

“They had no intention of leaving,” Andraychak said.

Mayor Ed Lee, who has been criticized for being indecisive in his handling of the Occupy encampment at Justin Herman Plaza in late 2011, said before the arrests Monday that he was deferring to Police Chief Greg Suhr on plans to oust the protesters.

The mayor said he sympathized with the Occupy protesters’ concerns over vacant buildings, but suggested they compile a list of vacant properties and share it with city officials rather than going the attention-grabbing route and taking them over.

“Identifying a building is one thing,” Lee said. “When you occupy it and it’s not in a condition of livability, it could be a danger for everybody.

“I personally would love to see every vacancy in the whole city have some plan and activity going on in it,” Lee added. “I hate seeing vacancies in storefronts.”