A yes vote on Measure S Civil Sidewalks is a vote for a safer, cleaner, more inviting Telegraph Avenue.
In 2011, the UC Berkeley undergraduate and graduate student governments held a survey which found that 67 percent of respondents — 90 percent of whom were UC students — would frequent Telegraph more often if the street felt safer. 75 percent said they would visit more if Telegraph were “cleaner and more inviting,” and by similar margins, respondents said they would visit more often if there were less panhandling and fewer people sitting on the sidewalks. As it stands, students and other Southside residents feel they cannot fully enjoy their neighborhood. The Civil Sidewalks ordinance is a measured, conscientious response to these concerns.
Measure S is a reasonable, humane approach to more civil sidewalks. Between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., Measure S would restrict sitting in commercial corridors. Exceptions would be carved out for medical emergencies, special events and those using mobility devices. Individuals sleeping on the street between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. would not be affected by Measure S. After the passage of Measure S, and prior to any enforcement, the city will undertake a comprehensive and collaborative effort to educate all residents, including the homeless, regarding the provisions and eventual implementation of civil sidewalks.
Once in force, any violations of the ordinance would be first met with a warning. Any eventual citations would be charged only as infractions, and could be worked off through community service, or even waived if an individual avails himself or herself of Berkeley’s comprehensive homeless and social services.
Measure S is consistent with Berkeley’s commitment to help the homeless. In 2012 alone, the city of Berkeley provided $2.8 million in homeless services.
Berkeley’s dedication to providing for the homeless would not change under Measure S. Compassion for the homeless does not mean adopting an “anything goes” attitude toward street behavior. Undue tolerance for disruptive or even threatening behavior oftentimes only serves to enable the unfortunate cycles which keep our most vulnerable residents on the streets and beyond the help of services. With its emphasis on non-police enforcement and flexibility for offering citation waivers, Measure S will help nudge service-resistant individuals to get the help they desperately need. The founder of Options Recovery Services, Dr. Davida Coady, has herself stated support for such approaches, which help guide individuals into positive, transformative programs.
Measure S is clear, fair and effective. Current ordinances are not sufficient to reliably ensure that our streets are safe and welcoming — as any walk down Telegraph or Shattuck Avenue will tell you. Existing provisions regarding appropriate street behavior are difficult and time-consuming to consistently enforce.
By unambiguously indicating when and where sitting is appropriate, Measure S gives us an essential tool to create more inviting public spaces and avoids unfairly discriminating against our most vulnerable citizens. Sections G and H of Measure S explicitly state that the measure is neither intended to discriminate against the homeless or mentally ill, nor is it intended “to criminalize persons for sitting on the sidewalk…” Ordinances similar to Measure S have been upheld by the courts and have been implemented with great success in progressive communities up and down the West Coast.
Measure S is a critical component of a broader effort, already under way, to foster vital commercial corridors that better serve students, residents and all street users. Let’s make our vision of a safer, more vibrant Berkeley into a reality. Stand up for Civil Sidewalks and help Berkeley take a step toward great streets. Vote yes on Measure S.
Eric Panzer is a 2007 UC Berkeley graduate and nine-year Berkeley resident. He is also a board member at Livable Berkeley.
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