Berkeley City Council ordinance requires businesses to accept cash as payment

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At its Tuesday meeting, Berkeley City Council held a “second reading” of a previously approved ordinance that would require local, covered businesses to accept cash during transactions, according to the measure.

A second reading is a perfunctory action completed before a measure is enacted and the law is changed. The ordinance would add a new chapter to the Berkeley municipal code and argues that cashless business models are detrimental to vulnerable groups of people because they require “institution-sponsored” means of payment, according to the measure. The intent of City Council, as stated in the measure, is to ensure Berkeley’s economy is inclusive and accessible to everyone.

The ordinance went into effect immediately following the second reading, according to Anthony Carrasco, who serves on the Berkeley Homeless Services Panel of Experts.

“It would mean that businesses would not be able to not accept cash,” Carrasco said. “One of the big inspirations for this policy is that banking services are not accessible to the poorest members of the Berkeley community.”

As a part of a larger shift away from cash, some businesses have started to turn toward cash-free transactions, according to Carrasco.

He added that this is particularly harmful to community members experiencing homelessness, as they do not have the residency requirement or the health capacity necessary to access and maintain a bank account. Additionally, Carrasco said many homeless community members are people of color and are originally from Berkeley.

“There is a direct connection between the discrimination of cash and the discrimination against homeless people,” Carrasco said. “(Some businesses) do not want (homeless people) inside the business … even if they are paying customers. … This is a huge racial and justice issue.”

The measure provides several exceptions, including when a business suspects counterfeit currency, when a single transaction involves the purchase of goods exceeding $500 and when reservations are created. Businesses are also not required to accept cash in denominations larger than a $20 bill.

Businesses violating these conditions could be subject to fines, according to the code addition.

“If you ask (cash-only restaurants), they would say it’s inconvenient to handle and store cash,” Carrasco said. “They’ll probably allege that there are certain costs associated with serving the homeless.”

Some restaurants feel there is a level of risk associated with storing cash directly at the restaurant; restaurants that do not store cash cannot be robbed except through credit card theft, according to Carrasco.

Additionally, Carrasco said the areas in Berkeley where businesses institute no-cash policies tend to be “hostile” toward the homeless community.

“The contribution to a more equitable Berkeley is enormously bigger than any inconvenience caused by this regulation, and the inconvenience is close to none,” Carrasco said. “Just because someone does not have a home, or a bank account, or a regular income, does not mean they should be discriminated against for trying to spend the money they have.”

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.