City Council passes sidewalk ordinance, installs cameras for San Pablo Park

Ketki Samel/Staff

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The city of Berkeley will crack down and regulate the types of objects allowed on city sidewalks — restricting the kind of property homeless residents can keep on the streets — through an ordinance passed at Tuesday’s regular council meeting.

Temporary noncommercial objects, or TNC objects, are defined as personal belongings that can be moved and are not for sale — a classification that includes objects owned by homeless residents. The regulation seeks to make sidewalks safer and more accessible to pedestrians by prohibiting TNC objects on residential sidewalks and limiting them in commercial and manufacturing districts.

The council decided that TNC objects cannot be unattended for more than two hours. Described as a “gentle management tool” by Councilmember Sophie Hahn, a co-author of the ordinance, the policy prioritizes noncriminal enforcement.

The TNC object ordinance follows the recent opening of 58 city-provided lockers for homeless individuals to store their belongings. Residents who spoke during public comment at the meeting critiqued the ordinance as a move to criminalize homelessness.

“We know that these ordinances are going to disproportionately hurt low-income minorities and disabled homeless people,” said UC Berkeley student Alex Li. “And we know that these ordinances are going to cause conflicts between nonhoused individuals and the police.”

Changes to the ordinance were made to address concerns of homeless criminalization. It was revised to include 24-hour notices and enforcement by homeless outreach workers. Mayor Jesse Arreguín said the intention was not to criminalize people but rather “regulate objects” on the sidewalks.

Concerned about possible unfair penalties resulting from the ordinance, Councilmember Kate Harrison spoke out against the inclusion of criminal penalties in the new law. Instead, those who keep TNC objects on the street will be cited for an infraction or be required to pay administrative fines.

“I think the objects aren’t being given tickets. The human beings are being given tickets,” said Harrison. “We aren’t preventing people from sleeping on the streets if we don’t have alternatives yet.”

City Council addressed another controversial issue Tuesday, deciding to install cameras at San Pablo Park after a shooting at the park Aug.18. The cameras are exempt from the Berkeley surveillance ordinance, which usually requires that the benefits of new installations outweigh possible infringements on privacy.

Berkeley middle school teacher Ryan Keeley was at the park with his children during the shooting. Despite his position in favor of the cameras, Keeley said he understands concerns over potential abuses of the surveillance technology.

“We don’t need more division in our neighborhood,” Keeley said. “I’m also really worried about the possible racial bias with something like this, and we’ve seen that with police all over the country.”

City Council also voted to move forward with new welcome signs for the city after intense debate. The council also moved forward with a proposal to streamline the legislative process in committees, and adopted a revised version of the Group Living Accommodations, or GLA, Ordinance.

Contact Brandon Yung at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.