UC Berkeley School of Law report criticizes arguments supporting civil sidewalks measure

Matthew Lee/Staff
A man and child walk past a homeless woman sitting along Dwight Way.

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A report published by the UC Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic found that the city’s controversial ballot Measure S would fail to increase economic activity or access to services for homeless people, as some advocates have claimed.

There is no evidence that supports proponents’ central arguments that Measure S would help improve local business and services for homeless people, states the Oct. 19 report conducted by Berkeley Law students Joseph Cooter, Ericka Meanor and Emily Soli.

Residents of Berkeley will vote on Measure S in the Nov. 6 election. If passed, the ordinance would ban sitting on sidewalks in commercial zones between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The students began working on the report after being asked by various homeless service providers to analyze arguments by proponents of Measure S.

The report looks at five cities in California that previously implemented sit-lie ordinances, including Santa Barbara, Modesto and Palo Alto. By comparing the retail sales in each city from before the ordinance was enacted to one year after it went into effect, the report found that only one city showed a positive economic change.

Additionally, the students sought evidence to support the claim that homeless people in the Telegraph and Downtown Berkeley area had negatively impacted economic activity. According to their research, all nine of Berkeley’s commercial districts have experienced declining sales since 2008.

“In relative terms, however, Downtown Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue have out-performed all other business districts during that time,” the report states.

The report also states that while police costs are unlikely to be significant, the city will incur some costs through the implementation of the measure.

Contrary to proponents’ arguments that Measure S will help homeless people access social services, the report found that the measure does not contain any provisions to connect homeless people to services.

“Before you implement a public policy, you should have some proven fact of what it is going to do,” Meanor said.

Roland Peterson, executive director of the Telegraph Property and Business Management Corporation, said he found the report to be misleading because it uses “selective data that is accurate but misleading.”

But Measure S opponent and City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin agrees with the report’s findings and hopes voters will use it as a resource in the November election.

“This report provides critical information that sheds light on Measure S,” Arreguin said. “I hope the information gets out there so voters can get the facts and make an informed decision.”

Despite the findings, Peterson said he is not worried about the report’s potential effect on voters.

“The case we are making is what people intuitively know (about the situation),” Peterson said. “It doesn’t need analysis. People have been affected in their own lives.”

Contact Andrea Guzman at [email protected]