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Council Gets Sidewalk Ordinance

With panel's approval, the city manager would draft a measure for the November ballot prohibiting sitting on sidewalks -- even atop duffel bags or backpacks.

Tuesday, Mayor Tom Bates will ask the Berkeley City Council to place a  measure on the November ballot augment banning sitting on the sidewalk in commercial stretches of the city.

The ordinance, which has stirred contention, would augment the city's Public Commons for Everyone Initiative, which was passed in 2007.

That initiative detailed 15 guidelines for keeping the city's public areas clean, safe, healthy and welcoming to residents, business owners, and visitors. It recommended $1 million in added support for social service agencies targeting homelessness and substance abuse, and came with a 25-cent hike in parking meter fees to cover the costs.

The "Civil Sidewalks Ballot Measure" would bar squatting on public walkways between the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. except in medical emergencies, as part of a parade or rally, or for activities secured with a permit.

Critics have characterized it as an attack on homeless youth who have little recourse. Others say it points up the need to assist both merchants and those who congregate on downtown sidewalks, particularly along Telegraph Avenue.

Bates says in his memo to the council that he hopes the ordinance would spur "changed behavior rather than citations and fines."

Presuming the measure meets voter approval, it would take effect on March 1, 2013.

The council meets at 7 p.m. in the second floor chambers, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Berkeley.

Arwen June 11, 2012 at 08:17 PM
As a former attorney of over 30 years I can tell you this type of ordinances have been found by the courts to be unconstitutional as unfairly targeting and trying to criminalize the homeless, young people, seniors, the disabled and people in general. Civil rights law suits are expensive so why invite this type of litigation? This a public sidewalk and a City cannot regulate a public sidewalk in a manner that interferes with the constitutional right of travel of the American people or one that affects the poor, seniors, and the disabled disproportionately. Berkeley residents do not want to see their police officers give tickets out to young people or their children who come to our City, the place where the Free Speech Movement started. They do not want to see our young being harassed because they happen to sit down, are selling crafts or are playing music on the sidewalk. I have traveled all over the world and one of the things that makes a city draw tourists and money are the cities who have young artisans selling their wares, playing some music or singing a song on the street. Seniors and the disabled get tired and sometimes just have to sit down. The homeless have enough to deal with in life and should not be harassed by the police just because they happen to put a duffel bag, back packs, etc. on a sidewalk.
Arwen June 11, 2012 at 08:20 PM
This is a waste of police resources. Recently there was a murder at Grizzly Peak in the hills of Berkeley of one of our residents as a result of a prowler. Police Chief Meehan decided to put all the city’s officers on duty watching a group of peaceful protesters walk up Telegraph rather than respond to this call. Did that murder not teach us that we want our police officers to take care of serious crimes and protect the people of Berkeley rather than giving out needless citations for uncollectible fines designed solely to harass Berkeley residents and tourists? It is my understanding the Mayor has stated we will promote the business of our business owners with this ordinance. Yet a similar ordinance in San Francisco has not led to economic recovery but rather economic deterioration. The reason for this is two fold: (1) this kind of ordinance will not bring in money where there is no money to be had in this economic recession. People are tightening their belts and not spending money. (2) Berkeley residents will resent these business owners who support and have pushed for this ordinance and will retaliate by refusing to do business in their establishments. Instead they will take what money they have out of town to a friendlier and more hospitable atmosphere.
Arwen June 11, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Having worked in People’s Park I know this kind of ordinance discriminates against our youth, the poor, seniors and the disabled. The mayor is being disingenuous when he says it will not criminalize the poor as more than 2 citations can lead to misdemeanor charges being filed. MISDEMEANOR CHARGES FOR SITTING ON A SIDEWALK? How ridiculous can this be? Finally, it will cost $26,000 to put this measure on the November ballot. Why are we wasting $26,000 of city revenue to put a proposed ordinance on the ballot that will invite litigation, waste police resources to enforce, criminalize the most needy and vulnerable in our community, drive shoppers and residents out of Berkeley and not achieve its stated purpose? I urge the members of the City Council to VOTE NO on this measure and not allow it to be placed on the ballot for November, 2012.
Mary June 12, 2012 at 07:21 PM
As for the critics who have "characterized it as an attack on homeless youth", it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the reason Berkeley has far more than its share of homeless and pseudo-homeless youth (and adults too) is that our city has such a reputation for tolerance. If such an ordinance had been passed and ENFORCED years ago, we wouldn't have the problems that we have today.
Arwen June 13, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Mary, if the "...ordinance had been passed and ENFORCED year ago", today the City of Berkeley would have spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on attorney's fees defending the numerous civil rights lawsuit filed against it as a result of this law. The City would have also spent thousands on salaries for police to give out tickets for sitting on a sidewalk rather than taking care of serious crimes such as the prowler call at Grissly Peak were a Berkeley homeowner was killed because the police were ordered by Chief Meehan to watch peaceful protesters instead of taking the call. We would have spent more thousands of dollars on administrative costs trying to collect uncollectable fines on these tickets and more thousands on feeding and incarating these otherwise innocent people who happen to be sitting on a duffel bag on the streets of Berkeley. If you want your children to go to jail for sitting on a sidewalk, why not take them over to Chief Meehan and tell him you are bringing your kids so that they can spend their nights and days in the Santa Rita jail? Let us know what kind of bill the City and County sends you. Go for it!

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