Proposed ordinances plan to regulate street behavior in Berkeley

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Phillip Downey/Staff

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On Tuesday, Berkeley City Council is set to discuss a set of recommendations to prohibit certain behaviors on city streets, in addition to extending services for homeless youth.

The proposal would ask the city manager to look into the possibility of implementing ordinances prohibiting unpermitted cooking on public sidewalks, panhandling within 10 feet of a parking pay station and deploying bedding on sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.. It also includes recommendations to consider extending youth shelter hours beyond the winter months and ensure the availability of public restrooms.

The item is listed on the council agenda as being from Councilmembers Linda Maio and Jesse Arreguin, although Arreguin has said he no longer supports the package of measures.

The proposal’s agenda item says it will “create consistency in the enforcement of current ordinances,” citing the need to clarify current enforcement of ordinances governing street behavior.

Some, though, have expressed concern that the proposed rules would function as criminalizing homelessness. Osha Neumann, a consulting attorney for the East Bay Community Law Center, compared the current proposal to Measure S, a controversial 2012 ballot initiative — which did not pass — that would have banned sitting on commercial sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

“Like Measure S, this proposal is about using the police as human garbage collectors and giving them the authority to sweep the undesirable people off the sidewalks,” Neumann said.

Members of the Downtown Berkeley Association refuted concerns that the proposal is targeting the homeless. John Caner and Susie Medak, CEO and board president of the association, respectively, wrote in a letter to the council that lack of regulation will lead to an “anything-goes environment” that does not properly discourage antisocial behaviors on the streets and that both well-funded homeless programs and ordinances regulating street behaviors are essential for a safe public environment.

“These goals are not at cross purposes,” the letter read. “(These) ordinances are focused on establishing reasonable standards of behavior so that our public spaces are welcoming for everyone.”

Maio could not be reached for comment in time for publication.

“It’s Measure S on steroids,” Arreguin said. “Originally I signed up for it because I thought I can negotiate for more services for the homeless. But these aren’t the right solutions.”

In protest of the proposed rules, students and community members have organized a rally and march before Tuesday’s council meeting.

According to the proposal’s agenda item, changes to restroom facilities could require significant costs, although the regulations are expected to improve maintenance efficiency, in addition to improving the patronage of commercial areas.

Contact Frank Yu at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @AsianHippie.