City Desk

About That $1.6 Million Occupy D.C. Cost Estimate

Local freedom of speech and privacy advocates at the Partnership for Civil Justice are upset about Mayor Vince Gray's testimony that local government has spent $1.6 million on Occupy D.C.

They write in a release, "The Tea Party-backed Congresspeople and the Mayor are promoting a false narrative" and claim that D.C. government has conspired to inflate costs—citing communications between flack Doxie McCoy and reporters that show the estimate rose from $21,000 as of Oct. 19, to $894,000 on Nov. 18, to $1.1 million on Nov. 22 and $1,579,000 on Dec. 1.

Which certainly sounds nuts! And yes, D.C. is definitely playing with numbers—but not the way the PCJ thinks.

Pedro Ribeiro, Gray's communication director, says the initial low estimates were because reporters were asking about overtime, not total expenditures.

But the critical thing, Ribeiro says, is that the $1.6 million estimate isn't all on top of normal budgeted expenses. Aside from extra deployments of cops and services on "days of action" like the Jan. 17 protest and other marches over the last four months, much of the $1.6 million is money that D.C. would have spent anyway, even if no one was sleeping in the park. Ribeiro didn't know exactly how much of that money was from overtime, as opposed to regular expenditures.

So why is that something worth testifying about before Congress?

"The District has no freedom of choice," Ribeiro says. "We're not being given the choice of spending $1.6 million." The mayor's complaint is that D.C. is being forced to make it work, but unlike other cities, doesn't have the option of evicting its occupiers. (Something Gray only belatedly decided was a good idea, after supporting the protest initially.)

Which is to say, Gray's gripes about Occupy D.C. are pretty minor. To keep the park clean and safe, D.C. is relying on built-in flexibility and contingency plans in scheduling by pulling cops off of training or desks and diverting workers to K Street NW. For example, when it comes to trash, "If one crew is diverted, you ask all the other crews to give 25 minutes, 30 minutes each to pitch in," he says. Eight or nine crews can make up the difference without costing too much in overtime. By juggling shifts and schedules around, he says, the city is tending to Occupy D.C. without cutting services to any other part of the District.

Ribeiro adds, "In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to be worrying about this." Sure, it sounds like a pain. But on this point, the mayor seems to be making a mountain out of a McPherson molehill.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • Sonny

    S when do we get our park back? It's been several months, there are no demands, at least nothing that our city government can address. How long do these hobos get to sleep in our park?

  • Jes sayin’

    McPherson Square is in Ward 2.

    There has been a stratospheric jump in thefts from autos in Ward 2 - especially since the Occupy protests began. The thefts have been in the Dupont Circle area, and are almost certainly not the work of Occupy protesters.

    But the Occupy protest has required an additional police presence.

    Could the police being assigned to Occupy be deployed to Dupont - perhaps with bait cars - to try to catch the people breaking into all those cars?

    They can't if they're stuck at McPherson Square or Freedom Plaza!

    The money being spent on Occupy is only part of the story.

  • Typical DC BS

    @Jes sayin': I was a property manager for an office building at the corner of 18th, Connecticut and N Streets NW in the late 90's / early 00's. Every year around November - February, we constantly had people coming into the lobby of our building starting about 5:00 - 7:00 pm saying their car windows had been broken on N Street and things stolen. It's mostly due to it getting darker earlier that time of year and people parking with something (doesn't matter the value) in plain sight in their cars.

    We had a guy about once a week walk up and down N street peering into vehicles, looking up and down the street, smashing / grabbing whatever he could take and sauntering off to the east.