By Mary Slosson
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Occupy LA protesters were warned on Wednesday they face certain eviction from their City Hall campground next week after talks on a voluntary relocation deal collapsed, their representatives said.
The anti-Wall Street demonstrators said they walked out on a meeting with officials from the Los Angeles mayor's office and police department after being told their camp would be closed as early as Monday, with 72 hours' advance notice from the city.
Word of the planned eviction surfaced a day after the group rejected what they described as a city offer to give them indoor space, farmland and other concessions as inducements for the hundreds of demonstrators to leave City Hall on their own.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office said in a statement it had "informed members of Occupy LA that City Hall park will be closed at some point next week for rehabilitation."
"Members of Occupy LA will be given sufficient notice prior to the closure," it added, without giving further explanation or making any mention of the relocation talks.
A detailed account from Occupy LA of Wednesday's meeting, posted in the form of a transcript by the group on its website, quoted Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo as telling them: "The mayor will close the park next week."
It also quoted an unnamed police official as telling the group's negotiators: "The use of force will be determined by the actions in the camp. ... I don't want officers shot with paint, fire extinguishers, etc."
"You will see an increased (police) presence in the coming days" as officers hand out leaflets in advance of the eviction, the police official was quoted as saying.
AT LEAST 700 PEOPLE FACE EVICTION
The Los Angeles encampment is among the oldest and largest established on the West Coast aligned with a 2-month-old Occupy Wall Street movement nationwide protesting economic inequality in the country and excesses of the U.S. financial system.
Staking its place since October 1 on the grounds surrounding City Hall, the compound has grown to roughly 400 tents and 700 to 800 people, according to estimates by organizers and municipal officials.
Compared to other major cities, Los Angeles has been relatively accommodating to its Occupy group, with Mayor Villaraigosa at one point providing rain ponchos to campers during inclement weather.
Attorney Jim Lafferty, an advocate for Occupy LA and executive director of the National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles chapter, said the proposed relocation offer emerged from two days of talks between city officials and a dozen protesters.
Lafferty said the group had been offered the chance to lease 10,000 square feet of space in an old bookstore inside a downtown shopping mall for $1 a year for 10 years, as well as two plots of land on which it could grow its own food. He did not specify how much acreage was involved.
In addition, he said the city had promised to provide shelter for homeless people who had taken up residence within the protest camp.
But he said the group rejected the proposed relocation deal after a heated debate on Tuesday, with many protesters slamming the offer as an attempt to co-opt them. By Wednesday, city officials were downplaying the outcome of talks.
Teddy Davis, a spokesman for Villaraigosa, said no formal deal like the one described by Lafferty had been extended.
"There has been some mischaracterization about what they were offered," Davis said. "There has just been sort of ongoing discussions." Asked if he meant that there was never a formal offer made, Davis replied: "Exactly."
Lafferty accused the city of wavering in its negotiations.
"They had not been cooperating in good faith," Lafferty said. "They had withdrawn offers they had put in writing. They said they are willing to talk but are not giving us time to have that discussion."
(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)