"I don't understand a lot of what your message is," said Councilman Jeffery Lalloway
at tonight's meeting of the Irvine City Council. "But by all means, if you want to sleep on our lawn. Sleep on our lawn."
It was a surprising turn of events coming from a planned city known more for its shimmering corporate towers than its commitment to free speech. But the council voted unanimously to meet immediately with members of Occupy Orange County
to hammer out a deal allowing protesters to camp 24/7 on the lawn in front of city hall.
The announcement was met with applause and joyful yelps at the end of a nearly six-hour session of the council which included more than 70 public comments. While a few comments were voiced by people with non-occupy aspirations, and included a guy in a Santa Clause suit, most came from articulate Occupy Orange County activists, many who have been assembled in front of Irvine City Hall for 11 days
Referencing the police's approach to protesters, which has witnessed officers corralling people to the sidewalks every night after 10 p.m. and asking them to keep moving until 6a.m., Councilman Larry Argran, explained, "They don't always get it 100 percent right. And we don't always get it 100 percent right. This is a new kind of demonstration."
Mayor Sukhee Kang added, "We want to put all of that behind us."
Agran, who is also a lawyer, then read a series of passages from the city code that he said will allow a prolonged assembly with city approval. He added the council had ample room legally to facilitate protesters wishes.
The governing body also apologized for the recent dousing of protesters early Saturday morning, which they attributed to an independent contractor who accidentally activated the system.
In his statement following public comments, Councilmember Steven Choi said in his seven years on the council, he had never seen a group get special consideration based on public comments. "You should be proud," he added.
Although council members voiced concerns about fires, semi-permanent structures and litter cleanup, Mayor Sukhee Kang and Agran were set to meet with representatives of Occupy Orange County tonight to discuss the specifics.
Group organizer D'Marie Mulattieri was beaming as she hugged members of the group while others shouted "this is what democracy looks like." When asked if she expected the council's support going into tonight's meeting, she replied, " I didn't know what to expect. I was hoping."