Business organizations in Berkeley have adopted the Block by Block approach to erode the human rights of the poor. The Measure S initiative was the most expensive campaign in Berkeley’s history. It was funded almost entirely by large property-holding companies which play an influential role in the Downtown Berkeley Association.
I want to thank you, Berkeley, for seeing through the B.S. surrounding Measure S. As City Councilman Jesse Arreguin said, Berkeley’s spirit is better than this law. And some said he was naive. But no, he was right, and the defeat of Measure S was one of Berkeley’s finest moments.
The victory over Measure S is the first time since 1994 that a ballot measure to criminalize homeless people has been defeated anywhere in the nation. This victory is even more remarkable considering that Berkeley’s powerful business organizations vastly outspent the financially strapped homeless organizations that opposed the initiative.
Kriss Worthington denounced Measure S as immoral and a diversion from the issues of homelessness and poverty. Sales taxes have declined the most in places with a smaller concentration of homelessness. This gives the lie to the repeated efforts by some business owners to blame homeless people for declining profits.
“I really think it’s a stupid measure and it’s not going to do anything to help people on the street,” said Jesse Arreguin of the Berkeley City Council. “It’s not going to solve homelessness, it’s not going to do anything to improve the plight of small businesses in our city.”
Measure S is unjust and violates our spiritual call to seek justice. This harsh approach to dealing with the extreme difficulties people face during this painful economic period is ill-timed and cruel. As clergy and religious leaders, we could never condone this approach to “kicking someone when they are down.”
Clergy and leaders of faith communities have signed a letter opposing Berkeley Measure S, the "no sitting" law, on the November 6th ballot. Religious leaders and young people will present the letter and list of signers on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 6 p.m., Berkeley Old City Hall, 2134 MLK Jr. Way.
Berkeley’s political and business leaders have ducked public scrutiny of their support for the sitting ban. But in a statement to Street Spirit, the mayor has admitted he put the sitting ban on the ballot because merchants demanded it. In Berkeley, human rights can be violated if it pleases the merchants.
“This isn’t some problem of bored kids from Oregon coming to Berkeley for the summer,” said Pattie Wall. “This is our problem, these are our kids and we have a responsibility to them — and our responsibility to them doesn’t include arresting them for not having any place to go.”
It would be a monumental betrayal of human rights to stand by while a few affluent business organizations attack a vulnerable minority. Can it ever be right to see a brother or sister in need — hungry, ill-clad, destitute and homeless — and then unleash the police on them, merely for existing?
Many Berkeley citizens have come out against this egregious attack on the civil rights of homeless people. Berkeley City Councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Max Anderson and Jesse Arreguin have shown us that not all members of the council have been corrupted by the baleful lure of big-time developers and their filthy lucre.
Elisa Della-Piana, director of the Neighborhood Justice Clinic in Berkeley decried the anti-sitting measure as punitive. “It will achieve nothing except create division in the community,” she said. “Enforcement of the ordinance would keep people homeless and create criminal records that could prevent them from getting housing or jobs.”