ACLU sends letter to Berkeley City Council alleging Brown Act violation

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The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Berkeley City Council and the city attorney this past week alleging the council violated its own rules and the Brown Act when it approved the contentious “sit-lie” measure for the November ballot.

The letter — written by ACLU of Northern California Staff Attorney Michael T. Risher and sent to the council last week — stated the tape of the July 10 meeting where the measure was approved reveals various violations of council procedure and California’s Brown Act, which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings related to local government.

“As a result of these violations, members of the public and of the Council were denied their rights to speak about this controversial proposal,” the letter reads.

If approved by voters, the measure will restrict sitting on city sidewalks in commercial areas between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Supporters say the restriction will improve business for shop owners who complain that sitters discourage foot traffic, though opponents defend by saying the measure does nothing to address the real issue of homelessness in the city and will not improve business.

At the July 10 meeting, hours of heated discussion among council members and more than 70 members of the public peaked with the protesters singing “We Shall Not Be Moved.” The meeting ended with Mayor Tom Bates calling for a vote, despite protests from Councilmembers Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington that not everyone had been allowed to speak. The measure was approved 6-1, with both Arreguin and Worthington refusing to vote.

Bates later said he was forced to call the vote in the interest of time and that the disruption by protesters deserved the true blame for the breach of normal procedure.

Worthington, Arreguin and Anderson, however, alleged that Bates and other council members had violated the Brown Act by discussing the measure outside of the council chambers during a brief break called by Bates.

“We ask that you put the Civil Sidewalks Ballot Measure back on the agenda, so that the Council may reconsider it under the procedures that comply with the Brown Act and the Council’s own rules,” the letter reads.

City spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said the council is unlikely to take up the issue again at this point.

“It’s already on the ballot,” Clunies-Ross said.

Read the full text of the letter below:

Adelyn Baxter is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected].