Update 10:30 pm: By 10 pm Thursday there were no more tents in Civic Center Plaza. Protesters had left the park by then or thier tents had been picked up by public works crews. The sprinklers were on and about 20 police officers were patrolling the park. Those remaining from Occupy Berkeley were hanging out across the street by Berkeley High School.
Berkeley city workers came into Civic Center Park around 1 pm on Thursday and cleaned out the majority of the Occupy Berkeley encampment.
Workers from the public works department, some dressed in light blue haz mat suits, drove a big truck onto the grass and started loading abandoned tents, sleeping bags, chairs, and other items. The 14 workers were accompanied by about 30 Berkeley police officers who stood ready to moderate any clashes with protesters.
But the bulk of the camp had already vacated. Protesters had taken down more than half of the 70 tents at the park by Wednesday night, and another dozen in the morning.
“What we are doing here is a collaborative project to pick up trash and unattended property,” said Sgt. Mary Kusmiss of the Berkeley police department. She said police would not be dismantling occupied tents since it is legal to be in the park in daylight hours.
But the city strategy seemed very effective. By mid-afternoon there were only about seven tents left in the park. The huge mounds of garbage were gone and only ghosts of tents remained, mainly in patches of grass that had turned brown because they had been covered by nylon tents for so long.
Some protesters said that the city workers had taken their stuff even though it had not been abandoned.
“The police took my property without ticketing,” said Larry Silver. “I complied with the law and got my possessions stolen by the cops, essentially.”
People whose possessions were taken by city workers can retrieve them at the city transfer station at Second and Gilman streets, according to Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, a spokesperson for Berkeley.
City Council member Jesse Arreguin was at the park shortly after the cleanup began and said he was pleased that it had been done peacefully.
“I am glad this didn’t result in an Oakland-type confrontation,” he said. “This was largely peaceful. Overall, the way the city handled this is commendable.
Arreguin had been upset that interim City Manager Christine Daniel had not notified him and other council members that the police were going to start enforcing the park curfew on Dec. 21.
On Wednesday night, Berkeley police removed a few abandoned tents from the park. Early the next morning, a group of protesters climbed into a public works truck to retrieve some of the items taken, and a group of 30 officers formed a barricade of the street to drive them back. A few suffered minor injuries when police hit them with batons.
During the Thursday afternoon cleanup, many members of the Occupy Berkeley protest took their gear across the street next to Berkeley High School. Some protesters have said they intend to return to the park, even though police plan to enforce a 10 pm to 6 am ban on sleeping on the grass.