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City Braces for Protests

By Teresa Rochester

As evening fell Wednesday in Santa Monica a dozen organizers sat in a house by the beach hashing out logistics for one of several protests scheduled to sweep into town this Sunday.

"We want to get some distance from the boardwalk because there are residents," said Gary Vogan of the Southern California Fair Trade Network.

The organization, along with activist group Global Exchange -- which protested the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle earlier this year -- is organizing a march and massive beach party to protest a private party on the pier hosted by conservative Democrats on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.

"What about lights?"

"Can we get scaffolding?"

The march, which will start at the GAP on the Third Street Promenade, is one of three demonstrations expected to draw as many as 10,000 protestors to the city on what could be one of the hottest beach days of the year.

From the pier to the Promenade, from Police headquarters to the local union hall, Santa Monica is bracing for the wave of protests in the city, which will serve as home base for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Four blocks from the house where protestors are organizing, Police Chief James T. Butts, Jr. is preparing for what could be one of the biggest challenges to ever face the city's police department

In recent months Santa Monica has become a labor powder keg as the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 814 launched a bitter campaign to unionize the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. The escalating campaign has garnered support from the majority of the Santa Monica City Council.

Several council members are likely to take part in what is expected to be Sunday's largest march against the hotel, which is housing the members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Rev. Jesse Jackson and John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, also will join the march dubbed a "Circle of Justice."

Butts is ready.

For the last two months the city's police force have been preparing for the protests. In July when Loews workers and supporters staged a demonstration that blocked the entrance of the pier, 50 police in riot gear surrounded and arrested 24 protestors.

On Sunday officials say the department will deploy all 200 members of its force in riot gear and fly it's newly leased helicopter all week long. Other southern California police agencies will be on call for assistance, including, some officials say, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

"We will have very significantly enhanced deployment," said Butts. "We have arrangements with other agencies to provide supplemental assistance."

In April the police department requested during budget hearings that $450,000 be set aside for overtime for the protests. Despite the chunk of money, city officials said the tab for covering the demonstrations would not be known until after protestors leave town.

"We'll know more about costs in the aftermath," said City Manager Susan McCarthy. "With full deployment personnel costs will be high."

"In April we set aside additional money for the DNC because of the overtime," said Butts. "But the scope will far exceed that."

But while most officials, as well as business owners, say they are not worried, some have expressed concerns.

"I have great concerns," said Councilman Robert Holbrook. "I'm really worried. I don't plan to be downtown. Can you imagine inviting violent people to our city and tying up resources to arrest people. When people see police in riot gear that's just a challenge to them."

Margie Ghiz, owner of the progressive Midnight Special Bookstore on the Promenade, said she sat in disbelief on Tuesday listening to her fellow Promenade business owners ask Butts about the "mobs, marauders and anarchists" scheduled to descend on the trendy shopping strip.

"The saddest part was that everyone in the room was scared," said Ghiz, of the 65 business and property owners who showed up for the meeting in the community room at Santa Monica Place. "All they were concerned about was their own business and their own property. Nobody thought about why people were marching. It made me sad to see this fear not based on reality."

Tuesday's meeting was hosted by the Bayside District, which runs the downtown area including the Promenade, and Santa Monica Place. Kathleen Rawson, executive director of Bayside said she invited Butts to speak at the meeting to dispel rumors and assuage fears.

"The police have reassured the merchants that their preparations are extensive. We feel confident the police will take care of it," said Rawson, who added that the Bayside offices would be open on Sunday. "We're looking forward to a busy weekend. We're not anticipating any spikes because we will be ready for whatever happens."

Global Exchange and the Southern California Fair Trade Network will meet at 6 p.m. Sunday to demonstrate at the GAP on the Promenade. After calling for the company that also owns the Banana Republic chain of stores to pay its workers a fair wage and treat them with dignity, the protesters will march to the pier.

For a large part of his week, Butts made the rounds to business owner groups within the city's Coastal Zone that will bear the brunt of the day's protests. On Wednesday afternoon business owners on the pier queried the Chief about parking and how their day to day operations will be upended by the protests, according to Jan Palchikoff, executive director of the Pier Restoration Corporation, which oversees business on the pier.

Palchikoff said that only the parking lot on the pier would be shut down. She said that it wouldn't be feasible to shut down parking lots surrounding the pier because the popular tourist destination and beach is likely to be packed with visitors escaping temperatures that are expected to soar.

"Everyone is preparing for peak beach activity," Palchikoff said. "We're just basically expecting business as usual."

Butts said the meetings with the Bayside District, the PRC and the Convention and Visitors Bureau were to stem rumors.

"What we're trying to do is put coherence to the rumors they were hearing," Butts said about the meetings, which were initiated by the different groups. "It was an effort to get out the best information at this time. They [merchants] seem to be very confident. There didn't seem to be excessive anxiety."

A major target of the demonstrations will be a private party hosted by the Blue Dogs, a conservative branch of the Democratic Party. The Blue Dogs are renting rides at Pacific Park, which will close to the public at 6 p.m. The party is expected to draw 2,000 revelers.

At Pacific Park members of the amusement park's 24 hour security staff have met with the police department.

"We have staffed appropriately for the number of people expected at the event," said Jeff Klocke, Pacific Park's marketing director. "It's highly unusual for us to close the park to the public. It was a high enough profile event that it made sense."

Along with the Blue Dogs two other parties will take place on the pier. The Green Party will host a bash at Rusty's on the Pier and The Arcadia Restaurant will play host to a forum on local issues and a celebration of local spirit, according to the D2KLA web site.

Following their demonstration in front of Gap on the Promenade, Southern California Fair Trade Network and Global Exchange will be joined by a number of protestors, activists, artists and workers for a party on the beach south of the pier to protest the Blue Dog's event.

"It's a demonstration against those that are renting the pier and are being exclusive," said Global Exchange's Juliette Beck. "We're here to challenge this in a fun way. Hopefully Santa Monicans won't see this as an invasion."

"Can somebody take over security," Vogan asks the 14 people sitting around the living room in the house by the beach.

Vogan, of the Southern California Fair Trade Network, has already contacted 30 volunteers who underwent legal observer training offered by D2KLA, the umbrella organization protestors are working with during next weeks Democratic National Convention.

One of the observers - who will monitor the behavior of both demonstrators and police --is PRC board member Linda Sullivan.

"Public safety is so important, but in first amendment areas I find city officials and the Santa Monica Police Department don't have the best understanding of first amendment nuances," Sullivan said. "I don't know why people who want to express their right to free speech have to be looked on as subversive."

But Sullivan is optimistic. "I think everything is going to be fine," she said. "We have a good police department."

Protestors say they expect no problems.

"This is a peaceful nonviolent march," Vogan said. "There will be no violence…This is a legal, peaceful march."

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