City Council to discuss sidewalk regulations, homelessness

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Berkeley City Council will focus on issues surrounding housing and the homeless, discussing particular policies concerning the homelessness crisis, sidewalk regulation enforcement and home sharing during its regular Tuesday meeting.

The council will focus in particular on a city ordinance long in the making, which regulates “sitting, lying, dogs, and objects” on sidewalks in Berkeley. The policy was initially proposed April 26 but was withdrawn by Mayor Jesse Arreguín over its potential unconstitutionality. Given the recent Martin v. City of Boise ruling Sept. 4 — which prohibits the criminalization of homeless people for sleeping outside when no alternative shelter options are available — the council will decide whether to take steps to amend or draft new sidewalk policies.

The council will also discuss noncriminal penalties to address violations against sidewalk regulations. According to the meeting agenda, penalty options should reflect “positive actions,” such as education or mandated community service.

Co-founder of the homeless advocacy group First They Came for the Homeless Mike Zint said in an email that the city has been trying to “regulate poor people” for the last couple of years, using the “mandated and verified community service” clause as an example.

“ ‘Mandated’ is a very nasty word when you are the target,” Zint said in an email. “It also regulates homeless into services which are a dismal failure.”

City Councilmember Kate Harrison said she does not want to issue criminal penalties to enforce laws concerning the use of public space and that ignoring homeless people or issuing them tickets is not the solution to the homelessness crisis. The council will also discuss what Harrison calls “common sense restrictions” on how many objects people can keep on the sidewalk. Harrison said there are currently some — but not enough — storage lockers available for people’s possessions.

Zint’s group filed a class-action lawsuit against the city for allegedly removing property of homeless residents. He said that if they win, every homeless person who has had items confiscated can sue the city of Berkeley.

“The city is offering just enough to show the residents they are trying without really trying,” Zint said in an email.

According to Zint, the solution to homelessness is not new laws and regulations but housing and services.

The city has addressed housing for the homeless with programs such as the Pathways Project, which received $1.9 million of initial funding in December 2017. Through this program, the city has been able to house about 20 people.

Another key item on the agenda addresses home sharing. Harrison said the Housing Advisory Commission has asked the city manager to look into a two-year Home Share Pilot Program, in which two or more people, such as a student and a senior, can share a living space.

Contact Sabina Mahavni at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sabina_mahavni.