Activists continue campaign efforts against civil sidewalks ordinance measure

The campaign against the civil sidewalks measure S prepares for the upcoming election.
Anna Vignet/File
The campaign against the civil sidewalks measure S prepares for the upcoming election.

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Controversy over the civil sidewalks measure has been renewed as campaigns begin gearing up for the upcoming city election just over two months away.

The Berkeley Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down Coalition, composed of Bay Area and neighborhood activists, will hold different events and debates regarding Measure S — a measure that would prohibit sitting on sidewalks in commercial districts between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. — in the months before the November election.

“(The homeless) are people who basically have no money, and they need help,” said Christopher Cook, communications director of the coalition. “They don’t need to be pushed around … this is a measure that really accomplishes nothing for merchants, for homeless people, for anyone else.”

Arguments both for and against the issue will be published in a voter pamphlet for Berkeley residents, said city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross. If approved by voters in November, the measure will go into effect July 1, 2013.

According to the argument in favor of Measure S — which is signed by Mayor Tom Bates, Councilmember Laurie Capitelli and other local business merchants — Berkeley annually spends about $2.8 million on social services, including those for the homeless. The primary argument states that the measure will not only help people get the services they need but also improve commercial businesses.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, however, said there are already not enough resources like shelter beds and public bathrooms, and if the homeless are arrested for not being able to afford their fines, they may be ineligible for services that are scarce enough.

“It’s not going to result in people getting off the streets,” Arreguin said. “Untold amounts of money will go to the city, police resources and jail resources … they will criminalize the homeless, and it’s unnecessary. Where are people going to go?”

According to Osha Neumann, consulting lawyer at the East Bay Community Law Center, there are approximately 135 shelter beds in Berkeley and more than 600 homeless people. The city’s shelters are regularly full, and there are no daily youth drop-in centers in Berkeley, he said.

Last year, the ASUC Senate voted 18-1 to oppose this measure when it was brought up during its term, said ASUC Senator and fourth-year UC Berkeley student Nolan Pack.

“As the campaign against the sit-lie ordinance continues to gain momentum, I will introduce a bill opposing not just Measure S, but the spirit of sit-lie ordinances more broadly,” Pack said in an email. “The costs of this measure, in time, money and human dignity are far too high.”

However, according to Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, Berkeley already spends around $5,000 to $10,000 for services for each homeless person each year. Additionally, Measure S would only restrict sitting on sidewalks in commercial areas and not all the sidewalks in Berkeley, he said.

“We live in a democracy,” Wozniak said. “When there are a lot of controversies, you put it to a vote … the city doesn’t want to put people in jail over this — we would really like to get people in services.”

Daphne Chen covers City Government. Contact her at [email protected]

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that there are about 135 homeless shelters in Berkeley. In fact, 135 is the estimated number of beds available to homeless individuals in the city.

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  • angrybird231

    I am a Berkeley student who will be voting No on this idiotic measure. The police will not harass people from using public sidewalks. This is bullshit fascism. The homeless will not be harassed. This stereotyping of homeless people is stupid. Not every homeless person is crazy and causes problems. They only want compassion. Have some compassion in your damn heart Berkeley. You privileged, selfish generation. I’d be more afraid of UCPD than homeless people.

  • Dan Gerous

    The “Gutter Punks” that PseudoBerkeleyan speaks of are mostly foster kids dropped to the streets when they became 18 and the severely disabled. The “No sitting” law is not about sitting, it is about stealing police coverage from the neighborhoods. Just a couple of months ago a man was killed in his driveway when the police said they were too busy monitoring occupy people (a claim they later retracted) so while you are calling about burlaries and assaults in your driveway the police will be miles away tranfering a foster kid to be raped or killed ( See: Kevin Freeman) in Santa Rita Jail. As a long time Berkeley resident (My kids are 4th generation Berkeley.) I am against this stupid law for all the right reasons. 1) The safety of Me and my family, 2) It’s wrong to scapegoat and exclude people 3) The business areas have plenty of laws and police coverage 4) I myself was told they could not send a cop and could I “put the man on the phone” when a drunk psycho backed down our driveway running over our trash cans 5) I do not being like manipulated so Tom Bates and Darryl Moore can get more Chamber of Commerce dollars for their upcoming elections. Why are they so afraid to run on the support of the neighborhoods? Could it be if you want any help with the City you have to call Kriss Worthington?

  • ArwenUndomniel

    Unfortunately the Coaltion working against Measure S is Bob Offer-Westort who lead the failed campaign in San Francisco. This time he is being paid by the Homeless Action Center whose Executive Director Patti Wall has no idea what she is doing either. They will zap the creative energies of activists in Berkeley who could spend their time following people not as incompetant as these two.

    • Craig

      Bob and Patti are doing a great job and unlike some folks Patti is actually a lawyer not a office manager that moved here in 2010 from Texas.Your misrepresenting yourself as an 30 year civil rights attorney and Harvard grad is as real as the fantasy language you list on your accomplishments. If anyone is zapping energies, maybe you should take a long look in the mirror.

  • ArwenUndomniel

    As Berkeley residents we all remember the night our neighbor was killed in Grizzly Peak because Police Chief Meehan ordered his officers to watch peaceful protesters on Telegraph rather than responding to a prowler call. Now the Mayor wants our police officers to waste their time time giving tickets to people sitting on the street. Then he wants to establish a bureaucracy to try to collect fines from people who cannot afford them. On top of that the city is expected to put these people in jail where we have to feed and clothe them as well as pay police officers to watch over them rather than watching over us if they get more than one ticket (Yes that is what the ordinance provides for). .
    So we use our limited tax dollars to give out citations, take care of people in jail, feed them, clothe them and pay our officers to give out tickets to the disabled, seniors, veterans, our youth and the unemployed rather than taking care of serious crimes. Are these our priorities?
    I watched the Republican National Convention and Clint Eastwood pointed out we now have 23 million Americans out of work. There are 35 million people who do not know where their next meal is coming and 13 million of those people are children.
    Rather than criminalizing people for their status they have little or no control over, we should be buckling down and opening up our parks, using eminent domain to take over vacant and foreclosed properties in Berkley to house the people in Berkeley who are homeless and take care of the children who need to go to school, need clothing and need a loving adult in their lives. We need to protect the family where we can and keep the family together as they go through these tough economic times.
    The developers in Berkeley have not built sufficient low-income housing and the rents in Berkeley are off the charts. This city is not just for the 35,000 students at Cal, many of whom are foreign who have been allowed to come to Berkeley because their families can afford the $13,000 per year in tuition (a tuition higher than that charged by Harvard University). Much of the low income and subsidized housing is for students, not for the residents of Berkeley. We should not be expected to sacrifice our quality of life as the administrators at Cal give themselves continual raises to buttress a life style they would like to be accustomed to rather than taking care of the people of Berkeley.
    This measure is ill-advised and does not accomplish anything other than wasting our police resources, create another expensive bureaucracy the voters have to pay for and make Berkeley unsafe by diverting our police officers from their primary duties which is to deal with serious crime and keep us safe.

  • Guest

    Poorly thought out initiative. Honestly, this measure will not improve public safety in anyway. (1) Aggressive panhandling can be done as easily (actually more easily) while standing than sitting. (2) Restricting sitting/lying on Telegraph and Shattuck will bring more people to residential streets and parks (People’s Park), and campus. (3) The measure would not apply at night (between 10pm and 7am).

    • Berkeleyan

      Do you have a better suggestion? If you say more services I’m going to have to tell you to go %[email protected]# yourself, as this city provides more per capita than damn near any other in the country (which is why we’re such a magnet for vagrants). So if you actually care about the impact aggressive panhandling by gutter punks is having on students, residents, tourists, etc., what do you propose?

      • Guest

        Berkeleyan, your slurs (“gutter punks”) are offensive. These people are homeless because they fell upon unfortunate circumstances. They have dignity and the right to sit and lie wherever they want. This is Berkeley: We treat ALL people with dignity. They are NOT harming students, which is why the ASUC voted 18-1 to oppose this measure. Please try to have some compassion for these people.

        • I_h8_disqus

          We will see in November, when students can vote anonymously, which the ASUC isn’t allowed to do.

        • Berkeleyan

          Oh, heaven forbid I offend “gutter punks”. It’s actually a very real subculture many of them self-identify with (there was a great Daily Cal article on this ten years ago, actually). Check the Wikipedia article on it, Seriously, go check it out.

          But oh man, if that’s offending someone I guess the discussion should end right there, shouldn’t it?

          Well, I think the politically correct word for gutter punk is disillusioned youth, so for the purpose of this discussion we’ll just say that, okay?

          And I’ll have some compassion for these people when they start treating the residents and students of Berkeley with one iota of respect.

          And are you just weasting my time, or were you going to offer up an alternative solution?!

        • Stan De San Diego

          “Berkeleyan, your slurs (“gutter punks”) are offensive. These people are
          homeless because they fell upon unfortunate circumstances.”

          Bullshit. 98-99% of these people wound up in their situation because of piss-poor decision making, usually involving alcohol/substance abuse or criminal activity.

  • lmarques

    I am against it. When not late for yoga I usually stop by the Cheeseboard for yummy bites. The best part of it is being able to sit down on the curb, eat and watch other yuppies.

    • I_h8_disqus

      You should just sit on the benches. Walk across the street to Sproul, sit on a bench or on the grass, or on the steps, and watch people.

  • Calipenguin

    The picture above says it all. These are not Berkeley’s indigenous homeless people. These are travelin’ folks who stop by Telegraph and People’s Park for easy money, food, and California sunshine as they tour America. Since they came all this way why can’t they just hitchhike a little further and camp in the woods at Tilden Park? Too few gullible students up there for panhandling, probably. Gotta sit and lie where the people go shopping.

  • Berkeleyan

    Dear Students, please vote “yes” on Civil Sidewalks. We’re not talking about homeless people here, we’re talking about itinerant vagrants who have no respect for you, as students, because you’re part of “the system”. Our local chronic homeless are NOT going to be targeted by this. The people who will be targeted are the asshole gutter punks (easy to single out based on their strict non-conformist dress code of black hoodies, military surplus duffle bags, annoying dogs, etc.). You know, the ones that fuck with you on your way to class?

    You’ve come to this city thinking this is how Berkeley loves having this population of asshole vagrants. Long time residents and people who are originally from here, as am I, WISH that uber-left wing zealots from Ohio and Nebraska who stop coming here and participating in our local politics for the 2-4 years they live here and go to college.

    If you’re going to vote on this measure, please really take a moment to ask yourself how you would vote if this street-punk phenomenon was overtaking your home town/city. After all, it’s not as if everyone in Berkeley turned into a neo-con overnight. This issue is really weighing down this city and citizens/residents have to do something aggressive about it. Look at how Albany and El Cerrito are – they never have to deal with this shit. Does where you hail from have a problem like this?

    • Lestin

      Thank you for making it so clear what this is about: targeting a group of people you don’t like and throwing them in jail for sharing public space.

      This isn’t a very complicated issue: do we let people sit in peace, or do we do we go after them with nightsticks?

      There is one factual inaccuracy in what you said: “Our local chronic homeless are NOT going to be targeted by this.” The ballot argument in favor makes it very clear that the homeless are the intended target, slyly tagging them as “menacing.”

      And we know from San Francisco that the most vulnerable homeless will be the ones who get hit. The thorough report by the City Hall Fellows* found that the “most frequently cited individuals are chronically homeless individuals.” “These individuals are generally not the transient youth cited in much of the debate prior to the law, but rather an older homeless population, many of whom suffer from both mental and physical health conditions.”

      No word on whether the citing officers thought they were assholes.

      This law targets anyone who sits on the sidewalk, and that includes the chronically homeless. It also includes protesters, the elderly, the tired, and folks who just want to sit down with their ice cream sandwiches.

      If we want to build community in Berkeley, we don’t start by making it illegal to sit in public. Maybe instead we stop shutting ourselves into our houses. Maybe we go sit on the sidewalk too.

      In any case, we definitely vote no on measure S. Let everyone sit in peace!

      *”Implementation, Enforcement, and Impact: San Francisco’s Sit/Lie Ordinance One Year Later.” Read it, it’s good!

      • Guest

        Boom. Internet win. To put it colloquially.

      • Berkeleyan

        Actually, much of what you said is simply wrong. There are provisions in the law for the elderly, children, the feeble, etc., so when you say the law targets the most vulnerable and then follow it up with that statement you are either terribly misinformed or flat out LYING. This measure is happening because damned aggressive panhandlers are pushing around the general public; they are anything BUT vulnerable as they do so with seeming impunity.

        And how can this have anything to do with “building community in Berkeley” when most of the aggressive street behavior is coming from TRANSIENT GUTTER PUNKS who have no stake in what goes on in this city as they pass through to spange and do drugs, only to move on to Santa Cruz or back up to Portland or Seattle? Do you even have a sense of what’s going on, here?

        Look, permanent residents, visitors, and students alike are all getting so tired of being pushed around by young, nihilistic shitheads that they’re finally saying enough is enough. You just remember that when this thing passes in November.

        • Lestin

          I would appreciate it if you would fact-check yourself before you say these kinds of things.
          The full text of the law can be found right here:

          There is no mention of the elderly, children, or disabled people (to
          whom I assume you were referring to when you mentioned “the feeble.”)

          I would put to you that your distaste for the people you insist on
          calling “gutter punks” isn’t a good predictor of how the law will work. A
          better predictor is how it has actually functioned in San Francisco,
          where it mostly ends up targeting the elderly and mentally ill. Those
          are the people too tired or confused to get out of the way when they see
          a police officer coming.

          If this law really does end up being used against homeless youth,
          though, that’s no cause to celebrate. You’re probably aware that
          homeless youth are disproportionately African American or American
          Indian; did you know they’re also disproportionately LGBTQ?

          I’ll put it mildly: shelters are often not safe places for LGBTQ folks.
          When you target the people on the sidewalks, you target the people who
          have been marginalized at every turn.

      • Stan De San Diego

        “Thank you for making it so clear what this is about: targeting a group
        of people you don’t like and throwing them in jail for sharing public

        Thank you for your silly extrapolation.

  • I_h8_disqus

    Pack mentions human dignity. He should look at the picture that goes with this article. You don’t see any human dignity on that face. When your solution is to have people grovel at the feet of others, then you haven’t given a solution at all. The slogan of the new coalition can be “let them eat cake”.

  • Nunya Beeswax

    There are lots of shelter beds; you just can’t take your booze, dope and dogs in there with you.

    • Bobber

      600 plus homeless…….135 beds…..You do the math.