Following failure of Measure S, opponents and supporters reflect on campaign

On Nov. 2nd, The Suitcase Clinic held a rally on Upper Sproul in opposition to Measure S.
Matthew Lee/File
On Nov. 2nd, The Suitcase Clinic held a rally on Upper Sproul in opposition to Measure S.

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With the final poll numbers showing that Measure S, Berkeley’s controversial sit-lie ordinance, narrowly failed in this year’s election, dismayed proponents of the ballot measure are in a time of reflection.

Proponents spent months arguing that the measure was an absolute necessity to keep streets safe and improve business in the city’s commercial districts. Critics responded passionately, decrying the measure as an attempt to “criminalize” homelessness.

In the end, the opponents won. Despite initial leads early on, Measure S was ultimately defeated 52.5 percent to 47.7 percent.

Oddly enough, both the advocates and the critics of the measure found hope in the slim margin of defeat.

Opponents of the measure saw the victory as hard-fought against a campaign that had far more money at its disposal than they did, said Bob Offer-Westort, campaign coordinator for the No on Measure S campaign.

“I think it failed for a couple of reasons,” Offer-Westort said. “It failed partially because people are generally pretty good. People want to do the right thing.”

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who was against Measure S, pointed to the student community, which he felt was strongly united against the ballot initiative.

With their coveted victory, neither Offer-Westort nor Arreguin said the Yes on S campaign was not concerned with future attempts at reintroducing measures similar to Measure S.

For proponents, this close defeat was a sign that Berkeley was a city wholly receptive of their message.

“We almost won,” said Craig Becker, president of the Telegraph Business Improvement District and owner of Caffe Mediterraneum. “That shows that everybody that voted with us was not satisfied with the situation.”

For Becker, it was a battle against two things — misinformation and time.

Becker pointed at the allegations made that Measure S would forbid sitting on residential sidewalks and would criminalize the homeless. He also addressed the claim that large developers ran the campaign. The first is completely untrue, Becker said, as the measure would have only affected commercial sidewalks. The second allegation was also inaccurate, Becker said.

“That’s like saying if you get a ticket for jaywalking, you’re criminalizing walking,” he said.

For the final allegation, Becker acknowledges the important role that developers had in funding the campaign but said the opposition exaggerated its involvement.

“That was a huge misconception,” Becker said. “I’m not downgrading their contributions, but this was not their battle. It was our battle. It was the battle of the small shops.”

Arreguin saw the “battle” in a very different light.

“I think it’s a victory of the people over big money,” Arreguin said.

But in the end, this election was what some called a race against the clock. The No on Measure S campaign had started considerably earlier, Becker said.

“We got started a little late,” Becker said. “We made a lot of progress, but I think the real thing is we ran out of time.”
For supporters of the campaign, victory might have been at hand if there were a bit more time, Becker said.

Now, though many options may be on the table, nothing is concrete.

“I’m not aware of anything at this time,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who supported the measure. “I don’t think anybody’s regrouped yet.”

The critics, however, have plans to move forward. Arreguin intends to bring an agenda item forward at the Dec. 18 City Council meeting to look into crafting a package of solutions to tackle the homelessness issue.

Jaehak Yu is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

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  • Guest

    “For supporters of the campaign, victory might have been at hand if there were a bit more time, Becker said.”

    Difficult to reconciliate that statement with the fact that momentum was towards the No side:

    ” Despite initial leads early on, Measure S was ultimately defeated 52.5 percent to 47.7 percent.”

    Had it been only about campaign organization, Yes on S would have won. It had more endorsements, more support among local politicians, more ads, more budget. Measure S supporters did not lose for a lack of resources, they lost because people did not respond to their message as much as they thought they would.

    • I_h8_disqus

      Actually, the No on S side had more resources because they had the media and politicians who could reach the students. They had the Daily Cal and the ASUC siding with them, and that is what caused the students to vote against the measure.

      • Emily Post

        The Daily Cal was more important than the Chronicle and East Bay Express combined, and its endorsement against S the week before was more important than the paid advertisements for S that it ran for months prior to that. The ASUC swayed more people than the Berkeley Democratic Club. Big resources were on the side of homeless people, not development LLCs and corporations. I find this argument compelling because it fits with my preconceptions about how power works and money flows: They’re always favoring homeless people and public benefits recipients, never the real estate moguls! Is there no justice?

        • I_h8_disqus

          Until the sarcasm, you had it correct. Cal students are reading the Daily Cal in larger numbers than other publications. Students are also more influenced by the ASUC than the Berkeley Democratic Club. This is one of those times when the homeless actually had the more important resources pushing for them.

  • No thanks, I’ll stand

    Who says the people who hang out on Telegraph are homeless? My niece used to hang out with that crowd. She wasn’t homeless, she just preferred taking drugs in Berkeley to going to high school in her home town. The guy who got her pregnant lived in an apartment, he just liked to hang out on the street.

    • Guest

      Your niece and the guy who impregnated her are fucking losers.

      • Stan De San Diego

        That may be true, but does that in any way detract from the point he just made?

      • guest2

        very good way with words. you make a very compelling argument right now.

  • I_h8_disqus

    “‘I think it’s a victory of the people over big money,’ Arreguin said.” I think it is an exagreration to call the businesses on Telegraph and Shattuck “big money”. This wasn’t Walmart and Exxon. This was pretty much small shops who are trying to spark interest in someone other than students shopping in their stores.

    • guest2

      they raised ~$100,000 vs. ~$16,000. that’s big money losing to people.

      • I_h8_disqus

        Campaign contributions don’t tell the entire story. No on S had some heavy hitters behind it. The Daily Cal and ASUC were the real powers that affected the outcome. They made sure that students knew how they felt, and then those students overwhelmed the residents. Having the universities resources made the No on S campaign the big money side even though they didn’t have to make a monetary donation.

        • Emily Post

          The side with less money was the big money side because it was better able to convince people?

          • I_h8_disqus

            Correct. Though maybe instead of calling it “big money”, we should call it more influential resources. This measure passed because of the student vote. They read the Daily Cal and they hear from the ASUC. Those two resources supported a no vote on the measure. They are much more convincing to students than any other resource. The Yes on S people could have spent a million on TV or Chronicle advertising, and it would have never reached or influenced the students. Future elections in the city should recognize that students don’t get their information from the traditional forms of media that Berkeley residents would use.

  • Current Student

    Jesse Arreguin is an embarrassment to Berkeley

  • Stan De San Diego

    For a city that prides itself on being so “progressive” and “forward looking”, it’s apparent that the majority of Berkeley voters prefer the status quo of non-working, non-taxpaying squatters and their activist enablers imposing their will on the rest of the populace.

    • I_h8_disqus

      I believe the students were the responsible party for the defeat of Measure S. Long term Berkeley residents and home owners were probably best reflected in the mail in ballots that showed more support for Measure S. I am thinking that long term residents are starting to recognize that Berkeley needs the tax revenue that a stronger business community within the city could bring. However, the students are not worried about the fact that the city doesn’t have the money for pools, streets, and other things, since the university has several pools, most students don’t drive very often, and really most of what the students need are provided by the university. To the students, the homeless are really just something they might pass by on the way to class, and most of them probably don’t even see a homeless person during their day.

      • Guest

        I always see a tall homeless bum with shredded pant legs outside Moffett Library.

        • I_h8_disqus

          Your experience follows what I was saying. In Berkeley, there are around 500 homeless people, but you see one as you go by the library. Most students don’t get more than a small glimpse of the homeless situation in the city. The city faces a dilemma. Either become economically successful and help those in need with the greater tax revenues, or stay anti-growth and continue to allow those in need to stay in need. Look at Berkeley’s history over the last 40 years, and you will see that the city has decided to avoid economic growth at the sacrifice of those in need.

      • Stan De San Diego

        Good points.