City Council approves plan to look into regulations on homelessness

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Ethan Epstein/Staff

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Berkeley City Council approved at its Tuesday meeting a plan to look into a set of regulations regarding street behaviors.

The referral is in regard to banning certain street behaviors — such as panhandling and public defecation  — in the city’s commercial areas. Additionally, the referral proposed that funding for transition-aged youth shelters be extended beyond winter months.

A group of approximately 70 protesters marched to the meeting in opposition of the agenda item.

“We are trying to show the City Council that the city is not in support of (the item),” said Courtney Weber, a member of the East Bay Community Law Center, the group that organized the rally. “Criminalizing these (homeless) populations is not the way.”

Protesters gave testimonies about their experiences of homelessness in Berkeley, with some performing spoken word poetry and others telling stories of their friends and family. Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin, Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson stood in solidarity with protesters and spoke to the crowd on the steps of the council chambers.

The mayor and five other council members, though, supported the referral. Supporters cited the need to regulate behavior on sidewalks to maintain a safe public environment. Councilmember Linda Maio, who initially co-sponsored the item with Arreguin,  noted that the proposal, even if passed, would still require further discussion with City Council and the city manager to translate into legislation.

Arreguin said he now opposes the measures, presenting a 16-point proposal with alternate solutions, such as increasing outreach to homeless individuals and housing for transitioning youth. Arreguin’s substitute proposal failed to pass.

In November 2012, the city voted against Measure S, a controversial ballot measure that would have prohibited sitting on commercial sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

According to a stakeholders’ survey released in 2014 conducted by the Downtown Berkeley Association, Downtown business owners have had increasingly poor perceptions of transient people in recent years. John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, said this was especially in regard to public urination and defecation, individuals sleeping against tree planters and verbal harassment.

“The problem is that the behavior has gotten more antisocial and aggressive,” Caner said.

But Elisa Della-Piana, chair of the city’s Homeless Commission, said policing transient populations does not work to solve problems.

She added that the commission would like to consult with Downtown business owners about how to best implement the council’s goals.

At the meeting, the council also directed the city manager to draft an ordinance that would require property owners of new buildings to devote 1 percent of construction costs to public art.

In addition, it tabled discussing a resolution in support of SB 277, a senate bill that would end personal belief-related vaccination exemptions in California.

Adrienne Shih is the lead city reporter. Contact her at [email protected]g and follow her on Twitter @adrienneshih.