Anti sit-lie campaigners take protest to City Hall

A protester sits outside the City Council Chambers making plain her views about a mooted sit-lie ordinance. Photo: Tracey Taylor

A group of about 70 people marched to the City Council Chambers Tuesday evening, after meeting on Telegraph Avenue, to protest a possible sit-lie ordinance in the city.

Although the item was not on last night’s City Council agenda, the protest’s organizer, Michael Diehl, told the Daily Cal that the group wanted to let the council know what they thought before it came to before council members. Diehl distributed fliers and organized the protest, which was attended by several UC Berkeley student groups.

But city officials say there is no interest or movement to consider a sit-lie ordinance like the one passed in 2010 by San Francisco.

“There is nothing being proposed or circulated at this point in time,” said Julie Sinai, chief of staff for Mayor Tom Bates, said last week.


Why, then, are people marching on the streets? Why did KTVU Channel 2, the Daily Californian, and other news outlets report that a sit-lie ordinance is imminent and might be presented to council in June?

The answer seems to lie in a forum held April 4 by the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Commerce. An email sent out to chamber members titled “An Examination of the Proposed Sit-Lie Ordinance,” said “the proposed Sit-Lie Ordinance, which has yet to be written, will most likely ban sitting or lying on sidewalks of commercial districts within the city during regular business hours. It is likely to be at least partially modeled on a similar ordinance in San Francisco that went into effect in January, 2011.”

Yet John DeClercq, the co-CEO of the chamber, said his organization is not pushing City Hall to pass a bill. While there is great concern among merchants about aggressive panhandlers who put off shoppers, the Chamber is not promoting a law to ban their activities, he said.

Instead, the chamber is talking to city officials and service providers about getting more street people into programs that can help them find permanent housing and mental and medical services.

“The people who are still causing problems on the streets and sidewalks are not in any programs,” said DeClercq. But “there is no specific ordinance. Nothing has been drafted. There is no staff report.”

Berkeley did adopt a ban on sidewalk sitting in 1998, but it was later ruled illegal by the courts. In 2008, Berkeley repealed a 1946 anti-loitering law.

In 2009, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty ranked Berkeley at the “tenth” meanest city to homeless people.