Walking down Telegraph Avenue can be like navigating a maze, darting around passersby and engaging in conversation with some people while avoiding others.
That could change if a sit-lie measure is placed on the November ballot for the city of Berkeley and passed. The civil sidewalks measure — which Mayor Tom Bates put on the agenda for Tuesday’s City Council meeting — would forbid people from sitting on sidewalks in specific commercial areas of the city between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Whether or not you believe homeless people and city residents should be allowed to sit or sleep on sidewalks, it should go up to a vote. Even though we have some qualms with the measure, Bates’ recommendation is the right one — because it should be the community’s decision.
This is not the first time the issue has come up. Last July, the council considered a similar sit-lie ordinance. A protest from Berkeley community members and UC Berkeley students a few months prior likely influenced the council’s decision not to take up the ordinance. As such, it seems odd Bates is bringing this up again — and doing so during the summer when school is not in session and many students are not in town.
The measure can be seen as unfair to homeless people, in some ways denying their right to exist. Certainly, it targets a specific community, and we can’t imagine police enforcing it equally for all people. The proposed measure would make it illegal not only to sit on the sidewalk but also to sit on an object on the sidewalk. Does that mean no sitting on benches?
In the dusk hours, walking in the city can often feel dangerous. And during the day, people lying outside a storefront might make pedestrians less inclined to walk into that establishment. Proponents of the measure claim it would help business, and they have a point. Yet, we are unsure how effective the measure would be, as there are other ways for the city to improve business in commercial districts, such as taking care of vacant storefronts and lots. Even so, people sitting on sidewalks do spend money in Berkeley — probably not a lot, but some.
The measure is admittedly controversial, and no side is 100 percent in the right. That’s why — even though the people it probably affects the most likely don’t vote — it’s best to let the entire city decide. If it doesn’t go on the ballot, there is still a chance it can be passed as an ordinance. But a vote is a better, more just alternative. People who don’t like the measure can vote it down and send a clear mandate to the council.