Berkeley’s debate over its failed measure to restrict sitting on commercial sidewalks left many questions unanswered. Though members of both sides agreed that homelessness was a problem, once voters rejected Measure S, the city was left without a solution.
Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin’s Compassionate Sidewalks Plan, set to be considered by the council at its meeting Tuesday, is a promising start. Because Measure S unsuccessfully pitted many business proponents against homeless advocates, it is important to find an alternative solution that takes into account the concerns of both sides.
By directing the city manager to convene a working group composed of business owners, students, homeless individuals and others, Arreguin’s plan could do just that. If approved by the council, the group will investigate at least five specific topics in its quest to combat homelessness, including the demographics and causes of homelessness and an assessment of potential funding needs and sources. Demographics and causes are especially important — homelessness cannot significantly decrease until residents have a complete understanding of the existing situation.
Mayor Tom Bates must be a leader in this process. Bates, though he supported Measure S during the election, has made it clear that homelessness is an important issue to him. He must prove it by cooperating with Arreguin’s plan to move the issue forward. He is unlikely to agree with many of the ideas offered by some members of the plan’s prospective working group, but that cannot deter his involvement on this issue.
Equally important is the necessity of taking action as quickly as possible. Measure S would have put a plan in place by this summer, and while Arreguin’s proposal will likely not be able to move that fast, one of its first objectives should be to develop and adhere to a strict timeline. Residents cannot afford another protracted debate like the unfruitful Measure S firestorm.