City Council passes contentious amendments to ordinances regulating street behavior

council- Jiahao Huang
Jiahao Huang/Staff

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Berkeley City Council voted to approve two contentious amendments to city ordinances that would regulate street behaviors and increase nighttime park policing — ordinances characterized by many as criminalizing homelessness.

One proposed ordinance would ban several sidewalk conducts — such as public defecation and urination, lying in planter beds and affixing personal items to public fixtures — as well as require personal belongings on streets, excluding dogs and cushions, to be confined to a 2-square-foot area during the day.

“I don’t think you know who you are impacting,” said Olivia deBree, a nurse practitioner and member of Friends of Adeline, a group that advocates affordable housing in the city’s Adeline Corridor. “We should not be kicking people when they’re already down.”

The amendments to the existing city ordinance will include the addition of secure storage facilities, public mobile showers and bathrooms, but few details were provided regarding where money would come from, how much money would be allocated and what the timeline would be for these services.

“Details about storage space and restrooms have not been addressed, which is a really glaring omission,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, adding that the amendment to improve sidewalks will certainly cost more than the cited $300,000.

During the meeting’s public-comment portion — which included a diverse group of more than 75 individuals consisting of homeless individuals, Berkeley residents and students — many said the amendments were discriminatory and cruel, unfairly punishing the homeless population at large because of the actions of a few.

Others noted that the amendments did not target the real issues of homelessness and provided superficial remedies at best.

“If you are homeless, you deserve our compassion and mercy, not prison,” said Berkeley resident Ben Bartlett. “Declare war on homelessness and not homeless people.”

Business owners and concerned residents came out in support of the ordinances, citing cleaner and safer streets as reasons to pursue the amendments. Stuart Baker, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, read a letter describing the struggles of some vendors and merchants in cleaning up after homeless people to maintain their businesses.

“Ohlone Park has been dreadfully impacted in the last few months. We need more help … particularly dealing with truckloads of debris and garbage,” said Berkeley resident John Niles, referring to another proposal that would place tighter regulations on individuals in parks. “Unless there are changes instituted in this chamber, nothing is going to happen. (The) situation is catastrophic on its impact on neighbors.”

Before the meeting, a candlelight rally including speeches and singing was held in front of the council chambers, where nearly 60 members of two homeless advocacy organizations — the Streets Are For Everyone Coalition and First They Came for the Homeless — and community members met to promote affordable housing and protest the amendments.

“The idea that (the amendment to improve sidewalk conditions) will result in homeless people magically disappearing is a fallacy,” Arreguin said. “We should invest in real solutions … not this hollow, mean-spirited approach.”

Arreguin, along with several city officials and local homelessness advocates, spoke at a press conference Monday morning at Old City Hall, denouncing the proposed amendments, after which a rally and speak-out were held.

Additionally, an item on the council’s agenda regarding a contentious student housing development on Durant Avenue was also originally scheduled for discussion but was tabled until Dec. 1.

Contact Alok Narahari and Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks at [email protected].