by Carol Denney
On March 17, the Berkeley City Council voted 6-3 in favor of a sweeping set of anti-homeless measures called “Berkeley’s Community Commercial Sidewalks and Public Spaces.”
All that really matters to know about this deal is that it was sent straight from the Downtown Berkeley Association through the City Council to the city manager without being given even a cursory look from the extensive community-based commission system for the customary evaluation and analysis of such measures. Its proponents also didn’t bother watering down or dressing up these anti-homeless measures with syrupy “services.”
It could all change. A courageous city manager would do what Councilmember Kriss Worthington did, and note that most of the behavior complained about at the hearing was already illegal, and focus on enforcement issues. Or provide a note of caution that Berkeley’s long history of targeting the poor makes it vulnerable to a civil rights challenge on the basis of patterns and practices of discrimination. Or perhaps recommend that infractions be tracked so that racial or other biases can be identified and addressed.
Berkeley’s most powerful merchant association, the Downtown Berkeley Association, requested these measures in a wholehearted attempt to transform Berkeley into one of the most repressive cities in California with respect to its willingness to target poor and homeless citizens.
The Downtown Berkeley Association began pushing these anti-homeless measure without bothering to consult anybody else. But a city manager with either a conscience or a constitutional concern could halt the whole runaway train. This apparent end run around Berkeley’s city commissions is a course ordinarily reserved for emergencies, which would be an ironic claim given the long history of efforts to criminalize homelessness in Berkeley.
The more profound irony is that this legislation passed not only in one of the most liberal cities in the nation, but also passed in the same town where a beautifully written survey of California’s anti-homeless laws entitled “California’s New Vagrancy Laws” was just published by the UC Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic. This important report was widely publicized in the local and national press, so surely some city official has taken notice of it.
The report carefully shows that California’s anti-homeless laws constitute a serious violation of human rights and are a product of the same prejudice against an unprotected minority that earlier in our nation’s history created the segregation ordinances of the deep South, and the anti-Okie laws of the Dust Bowl.
Yet this report managed not to disturb the waters of the deeply entrenched Berkeley City Council majority that caters to the whims of the big realty firms and property development firms who control the Downtown Berkeley Association.
Did the Berkeley City Council even read this report? If email or phone them, you can ask them. We can only hope that your call inspires them to read a clear, compelling story of what happens when a powerful community faction that only plans to house rich people, and criminalize the poor, is finally embarrassed enough to change course.
Community Commercial Sidewalks and Public Spaces
Recommendation: Discuss and refer the following to City Manager for implementation, regarding our commercial areas:
1. Ordinance preventing panhandling within 10 feet of a parking pay station (akin to our ATM ordinance).
2. Review ordinances other cities use to address public urination/defecation and return with recommendations for implementation; ensure public restrooms are available and well publicized. Involve BART in exploring possible locations.
3. Ordinance preventing the placement of personal objects in planters, tree wells, or within 3 feet of a tree well.
4. Ordinance preventing lying on planter walls or inside of planters.
5. Ordinance preventing deployment of bedding, tenting, sleeping pads, mattresses, blankets, etc. on sidewalks and plazas from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
6. Ordinance preventing personal items from being affixed to public fixtures including poles, bike racks (except bikes), planters, trees, tree guards, newspaper racks, parking meters and pay stations. Pet leashes exempt only as not prohibited in BMC 10.12.110.
7. Ordinance preventing unpermitted cooking on public sidewalks.
8. Survey business districts to determine adequacy of enforcement of current ordinances; develop an action plan for consistent enforcement as needed.
9. Clarify if “no trespass signs” on private property extend to sitting against buildings.
10. Assess adequacy of six-foot right-of-way to enable sufficient pedestrian and wheelchair passage particularly in high-traffic areas.
11. Refer to the budget process extending transition-aged youth shelter hours beyond winter months.