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].