City officials and residents demonstrate against civil sidewalks measure

Nolan Pack from the ASUC speaks to a crowd at the sit-lie protest at Berkeley City Hall.
Sarah Brennan/Staff
Nolan Pack from the ASUC speaks to a crowd at the sit-lie protest at Berkeley City Hall.

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Members of the Berkeley community gathered at Berkeley City Hall Monday to protest a recommendation that would place a measure that prohibits sitting on the city’s sidewalks on the November ballot.

The demonstration against the Civil Sidewalks Ballot Measure, which could make sitting on sidewalks in commercial districts between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. a misdemeanor crime, drew a crowd of about 30 people, and included Berkeley City Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin, as well as a group of Berkeley citizens and activists, some of whom were homeless.

The controversial measure aims “to improve the attractiveness and welcoming nature of all commercial districts in Berkeley,” according to Mayor Tom Bates’ recommendation, but critics of the measure, including the city’s Peace and Justice Commission, say it would criminalize the homeless.

The Berkeley City Council will consider Bates’ proposal at its meeting on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Currently, only three council members — Max Anderson, Arreguin and Worthington — intend to vote against the recommendation, according to Worthington, who said that two more council members will need to oppose the recommendation for the measure to stay off the November ballot.

“We are here to support practical alternatives, not to attack individual people,” Worthington said at the demonstration.

Worthington pointed to the efforts of the Telegraph Livability Coalition, a group of Southside community members who submitted a list of 21 suggestions last year to the council that they felt would help revitalize Telegraph Avenue. Among the suggestions were the installation of more pedestrian lighting and a plan to turn the Telegraph area between Bancroft and Dwight ways into a historical district, but so far the council has only adopted one of the coalition’s recommendations, Worthington said.

Nolan Pack, an incoming CalSERVE senator, also spoke at the demonstration. Although he said that he was not speaking on behalf of the ASUC, he recalled that the ASUC Senate had voted unanimously against a similar measure when it was presented to the council the year before.

Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District — an organization that funds various projects in the Telegraph area, including a cleaning team and two district ambassadors — said he supported the measure.

“Lots of people have not gone to Telegraph or Downtown because of people sitting on the sidewalks,” Peterson said. “When (homeless individuals) have a lot of stuff, and dogs especially, and when they act aggressively or outrageously, it creates a scary situation.”

According to Worthington, the measure’s primary advocates are commercial property owners, while many business owners remain ambivalent.

“I don’t know what the community wants,” said Doris Moskowitz, owner of Moe’s Books. “In terms of Tuesday, I’d like the city council to pass the recommendation … I want to hear everybody’s opinion about what they think would work.”

A recent report released by the City Hall Fellows of San Francisco has called into question the effectiveness of sit-lie ordinances. According to the report, the majority of citations end up going to a small number of offenders, indicating that the city of San Francisco’s ordinance has not dissuaded people from sitting or lying on sidewalks.

Both advocates and opponents of the measure in Berkeley agree that a similar ordinance that currently prohibits lying or sleeping on the sidewalk between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. has been unsuccessful in creating a more conducive environment for businesses in the Telegraph area.

“(The previous ordinance) has not been effective,” Peterson said. “’Lying’ has turned out to be too vague a term.”