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]

Correction(s):
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.