Berkeley City Council will consider a proposal at its regular Tuesday meeting to open negotiations with BART to remove a fence that currently surrounds the Here There sculpture on Adeline Street.
BART installed the fence in January with the goal of protecting BART riders and employees in an area where the train tracks transition from elevated to underground, according to BART spokesperson Jim Allison.
Residents of a homeless encampment located on the land next to the sculpture, organized by homeless activist group First They Came for the Homeless, were evicted in November 2017. But Councilmember Ben Bartlett, who co-sponsored the agenda item with Councilmember Cheryl Davila, said his desire to remove the “Alcatraz-style fence” stems from its unaesthetic appearance more than its link to homelessness.
In the agenda item, the council refers to the fence as “prison-like” and discusses the negative impression that the fence conveys to both Berkeley residents and visitors. Allison, however, emphasized the public safety concerns that prompted BART to install the fence.
“The purpose of a prison fence is to keep people inside. The purpose of this fence is to keep people away from the tracks and keep them safe,” Allison said.
Mike Zint, founder of First They Came for the Homeless, said taking down the fence is the only way to enact change because otherwise the fence will “become something everybody’s used to.”
Zint expressed a lack of faith in the city’s ability to follow through with its stated desire to remove the fence. He pointed to the disbandment of a homeless encampment in front of Old City Hall on Thursday and an absence of progress on the Berkeley Way project as indications of the city’s failure to take action in helping homeless individuals.
“I’m sick and tired of fences being put up behind us,” Zint said. “It’s an insult to everybody — Berkeley residents and our entire society.”