Berkeley City Council to vote on sidewalk, homeless encampment policies

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Berkeley City Council plans to vote on proposed policies for regulating sidewalk behavior and homeless encampments at its special meeting Thursday.

Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who co-authored the policies, recommended that the council take action. The encampment policy was first proposed in December 2016, and the sidewalk policy in April 2017. Both have been continually revised since then to include input from business owners and homeless advocates, among others.

Under the proposed encampment policy, the city would be able to remove homeless encampments at its discretion. The sidewalk policy would limit individuals living on the streets to 9 square feet of space for their belongings.

Homeless individuals living in encampments would be given up to 72 hours to resolve issues, including the accumulation of belongings, before being threatened with eviction.

“There might be issues with fires or noise or other conditions that will impact the city, business and residents,” Arreguín said. “We want to make sure that people are given the opportunity to fix those problems, rather than face removal. If things escalate, then the city will enforce.”

If the city determines that encampment health or safety conditions are “severe enough,” or that encampment residents have failed to resolve an issue highlighted by the city, the city would be allowed to remove the encampment without notice under the proposed policy.

Arreguín added that the proposed policies are “thoughtful, but also compassionate,” and ensure that the city does not criminalize homeless individuals. Ankit Hirpara, the vice chair of the city’s Homeless Commission, however, said the encampment policy implies that homeless people are a “damage to society.”

“There’s a disconnect with how the city approaches the homeless,” Hirpara said. “The homeless are deemed as people who don’t necessarily belong here, as people who threaten merchants on the street. They’re still stereotyped as all of these things and this policy does not help that.”

Arreguín said that under the previous sidewalk policy, which the city repealed in December 2016, individuals living on the street would receive an infraction if their living space exceeded 2 square feet, as opposed to the 9 square feet specified in the newly proposed sidewalk policy. The current proposed sidewalk policy would also allow the city to remove objects that impede “access” to the sidewalks, according to Arreguín.

Sidewalk space is valuable for business owners, said Stuart Baker, the executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District. Baker added that Berkeley business owners are “overwhelmingly in favor” of the proposed sidewalk policy.

“It’s really not about the homeless crisis,” Baker said of the proposed sidewalk policy. “It’s about how we all as a community interact in our public areas. I don’t think it has anything to do with the homeless crisis or resolving the homeless crisis.”

“We are a compassionate city,” Arreguín said. “People in Berkeley are very compassionate and are very supportive of solutions that address the homeless crisis.”

Contact Anjali Shrivastava at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anjalii_shrivas.