Measure that would restrict sitting on city sidewalks aimed for November ballot

Anna Vignet/Senior Staff
Keelan (left) and Robbie (right) met a week and a half ago in Berkeley. The two spend Sunday panhandling in the hopes of getting enough money for a bart ticket to Richmond.

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At its meeting June 12, Berkeley City Council will consider placing a measure on its November ballot restricting the homeless and city residents from sitting or sleeping on Berkeley sidewalks.

The civil sidewalks ballot measure, which would prohibit people from sitting on city sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., could cost approximately $26,000 to place on the November ballot and aims to improve the cleanliness and accessibility of sidewalks in commercial areas of Berkeley as well as business for surrounding vendors.

The measure — which could take effect in March 2013 if approved by voters in November — would include a warning before a citation, according to the measure’s recommendation. Following one warning, the next violation would be an infraction, and any subsequent violations could be misdemeanors.

The definition of sitting includes sitting on objects placed upon the sidewalk such as duffel bags or backpacks, according to the recommendation.

Mayor Tom Bates, who put the measure on the June 12 meeting agenda, said the city considered a similar sit-lie ordinance last July that would also make it illegal for anyone to sit or lie on Berkeley sidewalks.

However, the council decided not to take up the ordinance last summer, according to Bates.

Community members who opposed the ordinance when it was proposed last year held a protest in April, which included 70 UC Berkeley students and Berkeley community members who marched through the streets to a council meeting to make their opposition known. Protesters last year said they were responding to the push by Berkeley businesses that had been large proponents of the sit-lie ordinance.

Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District and a supporter of the ordinance last year, said he appreciates the measure being introduced by Bates.

“I thank the mayor for introducing the (measure),” Peterson said. “It is important because now it can be on the ballot and there doesn’t have to be a referendum.”

Bates said he wants to consider the measure now because it is vital for the improvement of Berkeley.

“We just can’t have people sitting on the sidewalk all day,” he said. “If we were to pass it as an ordinance, people would likely create a referendum, and it would end up on the ballot anyway.”

According to Bates, a component of the measure would be to have city ambassadors — members of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce who already work to keep sidewalks clean and serve as the eyes and ears of community — report people who refuse to get up and have them cited by police, as well as receive a small fine and the possibility of community service, if they refuse to move.

“It’s not criminalizing homelessness — we want people to come to Berkeley, to shop and spend money in Berkeley,” Bates said.

There have been similar measures from other jurisdictions in San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Santa Monica, according to the recommendation.

But Stephanie Falwell, a clinic director at the UC Berkeley Suitcase Clinic, said that areas the city of San Francisco thought its ordinance would improve are now facing economic decline.

Blue Q. Kazoo, a former Berkeley resident who frequently travels to Berkeley to sit on the city’s sidewalks, disagrees with the measure’s components because it targets homeless people and adds to their despair.

“It sucks,” he said. “I know that the same thing happened in Santa Cruz, and even locals were starting to have a problem with it, saying that police were taking it too far. What’s the next thing? Are they not going to allow pets on the sidewalks?”

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he would like the option to draft a compromise to the measure like other measures to be included on the November ballot, such as the bond measure to renovate the city’s pools.

Worthington also said he feels the measure is being rushed, and ASUC senators and Berkeley community members may not be able to provide their input before the council decides whether to place the measure on the November ballot.

“It is astounding that (Bates) is trying to race it through,” Worthington said. “All of the other measures have been under consideration for at least six months, and we basically know what is going to be on the ballot. Another key thing is that four commissions … and the ASUC all opposed it last time.”

At its June meeting, the council could vote to have the city manager draft ballot language in order to place the measure on the November ballot.

“I believe very strongly that City Council will see the wisdom in taking this very special opportunity,” Bates said.

News editor Adelyn Baxter contributed to this report.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article stated that Berkeley’s civil sidewalks ballot measure could cost approximately $26,000. In fact, that number is the approximate cost of putting the measure on the November ballot, depending on the Alameda County Registrar of Voters costs and the number of other measures on the ballot.