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Originally published Friday, November 18, 2011 at 9:58 PM

College may boot protesters over sanitation

After a health-department inspection of the Occupy Seattle encampment found overcrowded living conditions, unsanitary food preparation and no access to bathrooms during the day, Seattle Central Community College officials are looking at ways to evict the protesters from campus.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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After a health-department inspection of the Occupy Seattle encampment found overcrowded living conditions, unsanitary food preparation and no access to bathrooms during the day, Seattle Central Community College officials are looking at ways to evict the protesters from campus.

The college says health and safety conditions are "growing worse by the day" and that students and neighbors have complained of open drug use and harassment. The college also says it faces increasing costs for security and clean up of the school's restrooms that protesters are allowed to use at night.

"We have been exploring every option that will help us to address the health and safety situation, " said Jill Wakefield, Seattle Community Colleges chancellor, in an emailed statement. "Nothing has been decided at this point. However, we are committed to resolving the situation soon."

Among the options the college is considering is adopting an emergency rule that would allow it to ban tents and other dwelling structures because of health and safety issues.

A draft of an emergency rule prepared for the state says the college needs to take action because of unsafe conditions at the encampment, including syringes and needles on the ground, drug and alcohol use, lack of hygiene facilities and other risk factors near the college child-care center.

"This overcrowded and unsanitary camp requires these emergency rules to protect the public health, safety and general welfare of the college community and the inhabitants of Occupy Seattle," says the draft.

An Occupy Seattle spokesman said many of the college's allegations were unfounded. He said the Capitol Hill neighborhood where the college is located is known for drug use and transients and that college day-care workers routinely checked the children's play area for needles and syringes even before the political activists moved in.

"We've made a concerted effort to address all the concerns Seattle Central has brought to us," said the volunteer who answered the Occupy Seattle media line, but declined to give his name. "We will gladly comply with the health department or any other entity to ensure we have a safe environment."

An estimated 120 people are camped in about 60 tents and other temporary structures on the college's south lawn near Broadway and Pine Street. The demonstrators camped downtown at Westlake Park for four weeks until the city said they were violating a ban on camping in city parks.

The group moved to the college Oct. 29. The group is part of the larger Occupy Wall Street protests organized to send a message that the growing gulf between rich and poor threatens the nation's democracy.

Under state regulations, a public agency such as the college may file an emergency rule with the state that effectively becomes that agency's governing law. The rule remains in effect for 120 days. After that, normal state rule-making procedures, which include public notice and a public hearing, would have to be followed, said Dave Stolier, assistant attorney general.

An emergency rule may be challenged only by a petition to the governor, he said.

The state Attorney General's Office had previously advised the college that it could not legally evict the protesters.

Officials from Public Health — Seattle & King County inspected the encampment Nov. 7 and Nov. 8 after receiving an online complaint about rodents and used hypodermic needles. The department said it also got a telephone request for a health and safety investigation.

In a letter to the college, the health department said it found no hand-washing facility near the food-preparation area, no approved water supply, no mechanical refrigeration for food, no sanitary facilities during the daytime, overcrowded living conditions, dogs defecating and urinating, debris and litter between tents and evidence of rodents.

The letter said investigators did not observe hypodermic syringes on the ground or in the open. It also said that some issues were addressed after the first visit, including some portable toilets being available during the day.

The health department letter concluded that the college risked possible fines if the department deemed the site a "public-health nuisance" and the hazards were not addressed.

Stella Chao, deputy director of Environmental Health Services for the health department, said the department's intent "is to gain public health, not to shut down the site. We're making recommendations and doing a lot of education," Chao said.

Occupy Seattle has been involved in several clashes with police, including a highly publicized confrontation Tuesday night in which police used pepper spray on a group of protesters, including Dorli Rainey, an 84-year-old activist.

The next day, Mayor Mike McGinn released a statement apologizing to Rainey and some other protesters.

On Friday, Rainey led a group of Occupy Seattle demonstrators in a rally at Seattle Police headquarters. The protesters said they were planning to file complaints about police misconduct. "I would like to see some accountability over there," Rainey said, speaking to the crowd of about 30.

Clashes had been feared Friday night because organizers of a Hip Hop Occupy event with music and speakers initially didn't have a permit allowing them to play after dark. But the parks department decided to let them to play until 8:30 p.m.

Participants unplugged the sound system at 8:30 p.m., but performances and speeches continued with handheld microphones. The event wound down by 9:30 p.m. without incident.

The mayor's office said it was aware of the tensions between college officials and the protesters. When the city evicted the protesters from Westlake Park, McGinn offered City Hall Plaza, but most chose the more visible location of the community-college campus and have traveled between the college and Westlake Park for demonstrations.

"Seattle Central is state property. They have to decide how they want to manage it and we will support them," said Beth Hester, spokeswoman for McGinn. "It's tough trying to strike a balance between free speech and public safety."

Staff reporter Brian M. Rosenthal contributed to this report. Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com.

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