OAKLAND -- Police moved in late Tuesday on a diverse group of Occupy Oakland protesters who made themselves at home in a vacant lot in West Oakland that is in foreclosure.
About 20 people set up tents inside a chain-link fence that surrounds the lot at 18th and Linden Streets late Monday night, and Tuesday the camp was bustling with people. Food and water were available for anyone who asked.
Police gave the protesters a 30-minute warning around 8:30 p.m. to leave the camp or be arrested. At 9:15 p.m., several patrol cars were on scene and officers were trying to coax protesters to leave peacefully. About two dozen officers, many clad in riot gear, assembled near the site.
But at 9:50 p.m., police surprised protesters and observers alike when several of them removed their riot gear and all the officers promptly drove away. Police helicopters remained in the area and it was unclear what the department's next move would be.
It was not immediately clear whether they left because they did not have authority to evict the protesters.
Gloria Cobb, the sister of Oakland Post newspaper Publisher Paul Cobb, is the owner of the vacant lot. No recent records of foreclosure for the vacant lot were found Tuesday.
Records also show that Gloria Cobb is the owner of an adjacent, aging gray duplex at 1809 and 1815 Linden St. Those houses are not in the lot and were not taken over by protesters.
A lot owner must file a complaint with police before they can clear the premises. The protesters' presence at the lot divided neighbors over whether the campers should be allowed to stay.
Max Lewin, who said he lives about a half-mile from the corner lot encampment, is against the squatters taking over the property.
"They shouldn't be able to take over any piece of land that they want," he said Tuesday afternoon. "They should have to follow the rules like everyone else."
Campers accessed the lot through a hole in the chain-link fence. Reporters were not let inside, with protesters saying they had been portrayed badly in the media.
"We were looking for cool areas where we could help the community," said Thaddeus Guidry, 24, who was previously part of the Occupy San Francisco camp. The new West Oakland camp has fed the homeless in the area, Guidry said.
The impromptu occupants chose the spot with the understanding it was going through foreclosure, said protester Mark Creek-Water Dorazio, 63, of Oakland, but it was not clear late Tuesday if they had the owner's permission to be there.
Attempts to reach the property owner were unsuccessful Tuesday.
At the encampment Tuesday afternoon, people smoked, read books, talked and milled around next to a freshly opened box of raw tofu placed out for the taking.
The encampment came on the heels of the clearing out by police of Snow Park near Lake Merritt on Sunday morning and the raid on the Occupy Oakland camp at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza on Nov. 14. A camp in a lot at 19th Street and Telegraph Avenue was up for one day before it was quickly and peacefully broken up by police Sunday.
Branches of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which started in mid-September in New York City, were initially protesting widespread unemployment and corporate greed. Occupy Oakland protester Tim Simons, 28, said occupying land that is in foreclosure is in line with the original message of the movement.
"All these foreclosures that are happening are a result of this absurd financial crisis, and we're going to take action," said Simons, who has been part of Occupy Oakland since the first camp was set up Oct. 10. "This is the next step for the movement.''
Protesters again could move to set up tents on the steps of Sproul Hall as they did last Tuesday. Those tents were removed Thursday.
Staff writers Robert Salonga, Cecily Burt, Harry Harris and Paul T. Rosynsky contributed to this report.
West Oakland encampment was supported by some, but others objected to squatters.