Senate Bill 64 — co-authored by CalSERVE Senator Nolan Pack and passed last Wednesday night by the ASUC Senate — does the right thing in opposing Measure S on November’s ballot. The bill protects the men and women you walk by on your way to class every day. It protects Berkeley. It protects you.
Opponents of the bill spoke out at the senate meeting, asserting that Measure S would improve safety and business in Berkeley. Measure S criminalizes the act of sitting on select commercial sidewalks in Berkeley from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and strips the sidewalk of its people. It would advance neither the quest for safety nor economic prosperity in the city.
Public comment provided a space for students and residents to share their concerns. Student Action Senator Tom Lee voted against the bill but retained the right to express his view and that of his community. This free debate legitimizes SB 64 and legitimizes the ASUC Senate.
Failing businesses are failing businesses. Pepe’s Pizza didn’t close because homeless people sit on Durant Avenue. It closed because its pizza tasted like plastic. Naan N’ Curry has three stars on Yelp because its curry gives you diarrhea, not because young men and women sit 30 feet away playing guitars. While businesses can conveniently scapegoat the homeless to avoid realizing their own faults, this does not hold true in the reality of Berkeley’s economic situation. People come to Berkeley for what it is, and changing the meaning of Telegraph Avenue would take away what actually attracts people to it.
City ordinances already exist that prevent the blocking of sidewalks and prohibit lying down in certain commercial areas. Evidently, this concern has already been safeguarded. Measure S would not further that aim.
Safety as an argument for Measure S crumbles under scrutiny. If the measure passes, those who sit on the street will most likely move to sit in residential areas. The migration of the homeless from commercial to residential areas would do nothing to solve the supposed safety issue. Moreover, police officers would be allocating their time and resources to citing those whose crime is sitting rather than finding those who steal, harm and harass people off the sidewalks.
At the senate meeting, Telegraph Business Improvement District Executive Director Roland Peterson said that Measure S is not about homelessness but instead about making the “community friendly, welcoming and feeling safe.” Peterson also purported that people sitting on the sidewalk could instead “move a few feet to a bench.” Since such an easy alternative exists, how would the alleged safety changes even occur? Wouldn’t the same people just move to sit in a slightly more elevated position?
Students and Berkeley residents who spoke against the senate bill and in favor of Measure S must not understand the history of similar legislation. San Francisco adopted a comparable sit-lie law in 2010, and many people received citations without paying the fines. Tickets don’t deter those who hold up signs saying “I<3 anarchy.” All these tickets would do is eat paper, make police focus on less serious issues and criminalize a basic human function. In Goleta, the proud home of UC Santa Barbara, the act of sitting on the sidewalk gives the police an excuse to hand out misdemeanors to students for public intoxication like they are candy. In a world with Measure S, gameday would be more like Doomsday for students who sit down on the sidewalk.
Speakers at the senate meeting pointed to an ASUC and Graduate Assembly survey in which 63.1 percent of respondents said that they would frequent Telegraph more often if fewer people sat on the sidewalk. Faculty and staff were allowed to respond to the survey, and more than 36 percent of respondents were over the age of 26. At face value, this survey may seem indicative of the student voice, but it included an unrepresentative sample of less than 10 percent of the student population. Clearly, this survey does not match up to the actual demographics of UC Berkeley.
Measure S makes Berkeley mundane. Associated Students of the University of California, you did it right. As Suitcase Clinic officer Tom McClure expressed at the senate meeting, Measure S “takes a back-door approach and makes it illegal to sit.”
Measure B.S. Not for business. Not for safety. Not for Berkeley.