UC Berkeley School of Law report criticizes arguments supporting civil sidewalks measure

A man and child walk past a homeless woman sitting along Dwight Way.
Matthew Lee/Staff
A man and child walk past a homeless woman sitting along Dwight Way.

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A report published by the UC Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic found that the city’s controversial ballot Measure S would fail to increase economic activity or access to services for homeless people, as some advocates have claimed.

There is no evidence that supports proponents’ central arguments that Measure S would help improve local business and services for homeless people, states the Oct. 19 report conducted by Berkeley Law students Joseph Cooter, Ericka Meanor and Emily Soli.

Residents of Berkeley will vote on Measure S in the Nov. 6 election. If passed, the ordinance would ban sitting on sidewalks in commercial zones between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The students began working on the report after being asked by various homeless service providers to analyze arguments by proponents of Measure S.

The report looks at five cities in California that previously implemented sit-lie ordinances, including Santa Barbara, Modesto and Palo Alto. By comparing the retail sales in each city from before the ordinance was enacted to one year after it went into effect, the report found that only one city showed a positive economic change.

Additionally, the students sought evidence to support the claim that homeless people in the Telegraph and Downtown Berkeley area had negatively impacted economic activity. According to their research, all nine of Berkeley’s commercial districts have experienced declining sales since 2008.

“In relative terms, however, Downtown Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue have out-performed all other business districts during that time,” the report states.

The report also states that while police costs are unlikely to be significant, the city will incur some costs through the implementation of the measure.

Contrary to proponents’ arguments that Measure S will help homeless people access social services, the report found that the measure does not contain any provisions to connect homeless people to services.

“Before you implement a public policy, you should have some proven fact of what it is going to do,” Meanor said.

Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Property and Business Management Corporation, said he found the report to be misleading because it uses “selective data that is accurate but misleading.”

But Measure S opponent and City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin agrees with the report’s findings and hopes voters will use it as a resource in the November election.

“This report provides critical information that sheds light on Measure S,” Arreguin said. “I hope the information gets out there so voters can get the facts and make an informed decision.”

Despite the findings, Peterson said he is not worried about the report’s potential effect on voters.

“The case we are making is what people intuitively know (about the situation),” Peterson said. “It doesn’t need analysis. People have been affected in their own lives.”

Contact Andrea Guzman at [email protected]

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  • Guest

    Bit of a Straw Man. Most supporters aren’t voting for it because they think it’ll increase economic activity or services for homeless people. They want the people moved off of the streets to free up walking traffic, and because it’s just ridiculous to let people sleep all day on the sidewalks at noon on a Tuesday.

    • Tin Man

      Hard to sincerely call it a straw man when the campaign slogan is “Saves Jobs. Helps People.”

  • Doc

    Does anyone doubt that is because of People’s Park and lack of rules on Telegraph that the area is such a pit?

  • Chris

    It’s amazing how pro-S campaigners completely ignore and deny all available facts on sit-lie. Glad media is finally picking up on this–all the evidence shows sit-lie does nothing to help anyone. See the SF City Hall Fellows report too (http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Sit-lie-law-primarily-enforced-in-Haight-3763521.php). Also Berkeley city report found areas with most homeless people in fact declined least during recession. Measure S runs counter to all facts and logic.

    • I_h8_disqus

      Actually, your arguments run counter to facts and logic. You are getting your facts from law students and city interns. If opponents really wanted to know the effects from the measure they would have asked economists or folks in the public policy department to look at the issue. When you point out that areas with people sitting are declining the least during the recession, you are implying that the homeless are helping business. Is that logical? No. All you have found is that people sitting are going where the action is. They can recognize the most successful areas and so they go there. A proper analysis would probably recognize that while the areas where the homeless were sitting were doing better than other areas, they were doing worse than they would have if the sitters were not chasing away some business.

  • guest

    Interestingly, the woman in the picture is sitting on Dwight Way, which is a non-commercial street not covered by Measure S. With Measure S we can only expect more homeless people going to residential streets and parks.

  • Guest

    I’m voting YES on S, no matter what you f***ing leftie law students say.

    • Emily Post

      How’s that for a rebuttal? Not quite as good as “It doesn’t need analysis,” but more tastefully stated.

      • Abigail Van Buren

        It’s just like what Peterson said: “The case we are making is what people intuitively know.” Facts be darned. I’d say “damned,” but I’m a lady.

        • Current Student

          Just like people “intuitively knew” that the earth was flat and the sun spun around it? Stephen Colbert would be so proud of your “truthiness” right now.

  • Guest

    “The report looks at five cities in California that previously
    implemented sit-lie ordinances, including Santa Barbara, Modesto and
    Palo Alto. By comparing the retail sales in each city from before the
    ordinance was enacted to one year after it went into effect, the report
    found that only one city showed a positive economic change.”

    But…this is, like, using facts to figure out the validity of an argument. WTF?

    • EricPanzer

      This report was prepared at the behest of and in close association with the East Bay Community Law Center, which was vocal in its opposition to Measure S. The quotes below come directly from the report:

      “Unfortunately, we were not able to identify any jurisdictions that captured before and after data on these or other economic metrics for the purposes of analyzing the effectiveness of their Sit-Lie ordinances.”

      “It is important to note that this sample size is too small and controls for too few variables to reach definitive statistical conclusions.”

      “Finally, with respect to both economic activity and social services, there are many other variables which make it hard to isolate the specific impact of Sit-Lie laws.”

      I was impressed by the research of the report until I read it more closely and saw that the conclusions being drawn were based on a biased interpretation of evidence that is largely inadequate or completely missing. One of the most important things that scientific researchers learn is that a lack of evidence is not evidence of a lack. At this point, it seems like there is insufficient data for either side to declare an empirical victory. Unfortunately, in their rush to discredit Measure S, the researches of this paper ignored basic scientific principles and drew conclusions that were more consistent with their ideology than with the data or with the testimonies of leaders in other cities that have implemented similar measures.

      Five-time Mayor of Santa Cruz and self-proclaimed democratic Socialist Mike Rotkin has endorsed Measure S and spoken enthusiastically about the success of Santa Cruz’s sit-lie measure—the program which Berkeley’s Measure S has been modeled on. Measure S is also endorsed by Davida Coady, founder of Options Recovery Services, as well as by State Senator Loni Hancock. All of these people have endorsed Measure S in part because the success of similar measures has been observed by civic and business leaders in other progressive cities like Santa Cruz and Santa Monica.

      Measure S isn’t a magic bullet for solving the issues of economic decline and homelessness, but it would serve as one more tool in our toolbox for making our sidewalks more civil and inviting, and helping local businesses attracted needed customers.

      • Anthony Sanchez

        Is there any data, background or research that Measure S can provide? Since the inception, I have not seen one effort to support the aims and efficacy of this law with any sort of information other than to brag that other cities have done it. On the other hand, our office, and corroborated by this report, has demonstrated to the best of our ability that Measure S will not work and there is NO EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE to support a causal link between homeless people and commercial activity.

      • Anthony Sanchez

        You seem to admit that the approach didn’t work in SF and that we should seek a proposal that is thoughtful, narrow, and effective. Why do you do a 180 all of a sudden?

        “Eric Panzer in District 7

        June 8, 2012, 10:50 AM

        I find myself very torn about this measure. On the one hand, I do agree that there is a problem, especially with large groups taking over areas of sidewalk and scattering their belongings in the public right of way. On the other hand, this really is more about who the sitters are and what they are doing than the act of sitting itself, and this gives me pause. Clearly, a couple sitting down against a building to share some food would generally be acceptable, but the same two people sitting and saying inappropriate things to passersby would not be. Likewise, a large group of people sitting on the benches next to the library would not be unpleasant per se, but the recent state of that area has been incredibly off-putting.

        As much as I wish we could enforce better behavior in our public spaces, I am not sure that a ban on sitting is the way to do it; especially since it is clear that it is not the sitting itself that this the real issue. Moreover, the results in San Francisco appear to have been mixed, at best, so it’s far from apparent that this would be the best approach. I do want law enforcement to have better tools for promoting civil public spaces, but I also want those tools to be fair and effective.

        I also understand the frustration of businesses who must contend both with the direct impact of the homeless and other transient populations, and with the fact that the presence of these groups deters some patrons. As someone who has lived on either Southside or in Downtown Berkeley for the past nine years, I have seen problematic behavior first-hand, and I can understand why so many people find it intimidating. In order for our public spaces to function in an ideal way, they must feel safe and pleasant for the vast majority of users.

        While I understand this issue of comfort, I’m also not sure that comfort is a good standard for judging the appropriateness of behavior. In 1963, at the height of the Free Speech Movement, me kissing my boyfriend in public would have caused no shortage of discomfort. Does this mean that such an act would have merited outright prohibition? I have trouble finding a clear and consistent way to define or measure “comfort,” and I feel that in taking a blunt approach to addressing this issue, we may fail to live up to our own progressive principles.

        Even so, I think that there may yet be legal approaches that work. Knowing that San Francisco’s measure has not been as effective as hoped, we should be willing to take the time to craft thoughtful, nuanced policy that is both principled and pragmatic. Any ordinance should be carefully and narrowly tailored to address particular issues or behaviors, and should square with specific, well-articulated goals. I don’t pretend to know what individual provisions will ensure success and I want action as much as anyone else, but we must nevertheless put in the time and effort to create viable and effective policy. Anything else is likely doomed to political and/or practical failure.”

        • EricPanzer

          I’m glad you asked, Anthony. As you so well illustrate, I saw both sides of the issues surrounding Measure S. As I learned more, my fears were allayed by the content of Measure S and the City’s intended approach at implementation. Over time, I became convinced that Measure S would be an appropriate approach and had the potential to be an effective tool for making Berkeley’s commercial sidewalks more civil and inviting. If anything, what drove me to more closely examine the issue were the antics of Kriss Worthington at the Council meeting where this was put on the ballot. You can thank him for pushing me to examine the facts that led to me to support Measure S.

          As I learned more about the respective measures in San Francisco versus Santa Cruz, I learned that there were fundamental differences in terms of how these cities approached implementation and how the results were therefore different. Berkeley, thankfully, is modeling its measure on Santa Cruz and already has in place a system of ambassadors similar to those that Santa Cruz uses.

          As written, Measure S allayed my concerns about discrimination because it explicitly states that it is not intended to be applied in a discriminatory manner toward the homeless, the mentally ill, or any other Berkeley citizen based on status. It also provides that people would still be allowed to sit on benches, planters, and low walls, as well as in wheelchairs, at bus stops, and in parks. This means that for people who need or want to take a rest, most commercial areas will readily provide options.

          On the issue of comfort, I realized that my prior analogy was poor because the discomfort I described would not be based on any aggressive behavior or the reasonable perception of a threat of harm, but purely upon the own person’s bigotry. This was a distinction I had failed to consider before. Having myself felt threatened at times by verbal abuse or even physical confrontation by some of the youth who sit on Telegraph Avenue, I can personally attest that my discomfort had everything to do with how those youth were behaving, and nothing to do with how they looked or what I perceived their lifestyle choices to be. On the other hand, there have been homeless individuals or panhandlers in Downtown Berkeley with whom I’ve experienced no discomfort because they didn’t bark at me or stand in my way as I tried to pass. There may be some people whose discomfort is based purely on prejudice,
          but for every one of them, there are many more Berkeleyans like me who
          have actually had the experience of being accosted
          on Telegraph. Measure S is a tool for discouraging the sort of sidewalk encampments that all too often engage in this sort of behavior.

          Finally, I learned that there are laws on the books in Berkeley which are meant to accomplish the narrow goals I mentioned in the last paragraph. Unfortunately, those ordinances are clearly not sufficient, as any stroll down Telegraph will tell you. Enforcement of exiting laws would require an officer to actually be present at an instance of harassment–hardly a realistic expectation. Meanwhile, the conscientious implementation of programs similar to Measure S in Santa Cruz and Santa Monica is working.

          This evolution regarding Measure S was purely my own and I was lobbied by no one. Lest you call me a flip-flopper, the shift in my position on this issue was driven by my perception of the evidence and issues, and not upon political expedience. Unlike much of the opposition to Measure S, I have tried to make sincere, nuanced, and non-hyperbolic arguments. Though I disagree with them, I recognize that some who have opposed Measure S have their hearts in the right places—the ASUC for instance. I hope that voters will take a hard look at Measure S and the issues surrounding it. I think that if they do, they will see why I, along with service providers like Dr. Davida Coady, and leaders like State Senator Loni Hancock, have chosen to support Measure S.