Police step up patrols on Telegraph to clear sidewalks

Berkeley and UC Police have started regular patrols of Telegraph to discourage young adults from loitering on sidewalks. Photo: Sgt. Mary Kusmiss

In response to complaints from merchants and shoppers about the increase in the number of people loitering on the sidewalks, the Berkeley Police Department and UC Police have started a new patrol around Telegraph Avenue.

During the afternoon and evening, six days a week, a pair of officers, one from Berkeley and one from UC, will walk or bike along the avenue and People’s Park.

“We have heard community concerns about ongoing problems and these teams are intended to address those concerns,” Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said in a press release.

The decision to add regular patrols comes at the time when Telegraph Avenue has seen its annual uptick of young adults who camp out on the street. On Monday and Tuesday this week, for example, at least three people were stretched out in sleeping bags in front of the old Cody’s Books in the early morning hours.

“Every year there is a seasonal influx of a bunch of young people when the weather gets nice,” said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has introduced three measures over the years encouraging the police department to step up patrols. “That’s when we get a lot of people going around the country, going to the Rainbow Festival and elsewhere.”

Many of the young adults hang out all day on the sidewalk with their dogs and camping gear. They can make it difficult or intimidating to walk by, said Worthington.

“The issue is the massive collection of objects they put on the sidewalk that make it difficult to walk,” said Worthington. “It’s the mega number of dogs that scare people.”

Merchants have complained for years about the ceaseless panhandling, the cluttered sidewalks, and the openly hostile mood to shoppers on the street. On Monday, one Telegraph Avenue merchant sent out an email complaining about the young adults to numerous city officials, including the mayor and police chief.

“It is 10:30 in the morning and the street is already being taken over by homeless kids and their dogs,” read the email. “We started our day today cleaning dog shit from the front of our store and now have to deal with a bunch of rude assholes. Would you want your young daughter walking on this street, day or night, being called a bitch as she is just trying to walk down Telegraph?”

Young adults pack up their belongings after spending the night in front of the old Cody’s Books on Telegraph. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Atreyu, a 19-year-old Southern Californian who says he has been on the road for four years, said he always picks up after his dog. While he and his friends have been sleeping outside Cody’s recently, in the morning they pick up their gear and get out of the way, he said.

Atreyu said he got a ticket from the police on Monday for not having his dog on a leash, even though there were many others walking around with dogs off-leash. He believes he is being penalized for perceptions about his lifestyle.

“We’re just like everybody else,” said Atreyu, who did not give his last name. “We eat and drink and do our thing. Everyone else has a different lifestyle so why should we be getting in trouble for doing something different when there’s so many more people out there doing so much more bad things? Like heavier drugs, alcohol, robberies and stuff. They should go concentrate on that rather then us kids traveling along just to see the sights and living the way we want to.”

Merchants in Berkeley’s downtown have also complained that the presence of homeless people detracts from the shopping ambiance. The Downtown Business Association recently contracted with Block by Block, an Louisville, KY organization, to beautify the area. In addition to deep-cleaning the sidewalks, painting planters and hanging flowers from streetlights, the organization has trained a number of “Downtown Ambassadors” to help visitors and try to encourage homeless people from bothering shoppers.The Berkeley Police Department trained the ambassadors on April 11, although they are not authorized to enforce Berkeley’s anti-loitering or anti-sleeping laws, according to Sgt. Mary Kusmiss.

“The ambassadors do not have any police powers,” said Sgt. Kusmiss. “They cannot enforce any CA Laws and/or Berkeley Municipal Codes. They can, however, develop relationships and enlist cooperation if they feel it is appropriate or safe to do so. They also understand problematic behavior, how to generally spot mental health related challenges and call BPD when they see a crime in progress. They do not carry BPD or any police radios but rather call as a reporting party or witness using their title when doing so.”

Newly cleaned up downtown hopes to attract more retail [04.04.12]

Telegraph Avenue property owner shows plans for vacant site [04.19.12]
Can Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue get its mojo back? [04.18.12]
Imagining a future for Telegraph Avenue without blinders [04.11.12]
Telegraph fire site owner plans for temporary resurrection [02.06.12]
Urban think tank: Student visions for blighted Telegraph lot [10.03.11]
City hands ultimatum to Sarachan on vacant Telegraph lot [09.07.11]
What about that vacant lot on Haste and Telegraph? [08.11.11]
Berkeley students want better stores, fewer street people [05.31.11]
City says it is addressing Telegraph Avenue rats problem [02.10.11]
The rats of Telegraph Avenue (video) [01.28.11]

Want to get Berkeley news on your iPhone? Download the free Berkeleyside iPhone app.

Print Friendly
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • Annie Painter

    We spent a lonnnnnnnggggg  twenty minutes yesterday changing buses at Durant&Shattuck, subjected to the visual and audio assaults of the nearby street irritants. While one chugged a full can of beer, another entertained the group of ten by jumping around in wild circles screaming out his various psych diagnoses as a repeated chant. In his defense, looking around I couldn’t think of a more appropriate early morning behavior for such an unpleasant pedestrian corner. Only cyclists use the sidewalks in this area.

    What would I have done to ameliorate this kind of ugly scene? Berkeley could have designed the sidewalks in a more pedestrian-friendly configuration, but it’s too late for that. The city could have worked with landlords, realtors, and building planners to encourage small businesses to stay in the downtown area — drawing pedestrians (normal folks — ha ha ha — like you and me) to shop, eat, and drink — but for some reason we seem unable to sustain this kind of retail culture.

    Berkeley has had a good long time to figure this out but our city seems unable to cope. Presumably the easiest solution is to leave if we don’t like it.

  • The Sharkey

    Hey, man, I’m still in my mid-40s, technically, at least until September, ok?


  • Charles_Siegel

     I don’t mind the ambassadors at all.  They are usually friendly to me when I bike to downtown BART for my morning commute.

    But the Segway is intimidating and takes up so much of the sidewalk that it interferes with pedestrians.  Isn’t it illegal to ride Segways on the sidewalk in Berkeley?

  • Charles_Siegel

     Agreed.  They do not enforce the law – meaning they do not give people tickets or arrest people for breaking the law.  Anyone has a right to tell people that they are breaking the law and should stop.

  • The Sharkey


    Back in the Wild Wild West days of the internet I used to be overly free with my personal information. As a result of this, a discussion online turned into an incident offline in which the local constabulary had to be involved.

    The internet is a very big place, and I’ve learned through experience to provide as little personal information as possible online. I know this will lead some people to develop conspiracy theories or look down on me, but I feel that’s a small price to pay considering the possible harm that being too free with personal information can cause.

  • Greg

    Surprisingly (and sadly), my response to your post here was ‘moderated’.

    Some time back I told you about how I read your posts in the voice of a co-worker.  He fit the archetype defined (for me) by former classmates whose voices are lost to time.

    This connection was based solely on the content of your posts.

    Well, though we weren’t really classmates we may have attended the same school, likely in related programs.  There was possibly even a year of overlap.  It is kind of a strange coincidence.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, and all I’ve sed is off-the-mark?

  • Greg

    Also, if it isn’t legal to punch me in the face for the bad pun we desperately need a ballot measure to ensure it is.

  • Bruce Love


    Perhaps I’m wrong, and all I’ve sed is off-the-mark?

    Let’s not make this awk-ward.   Less is more, man.  Think like a cat.  I’ll try not to be arch with you.   I’m sure that with a little guile we can find the perfect Rx to fsck the trolls. 

  • Greg

    Ha.  So I met our mutual friend Andrew in ’93.  Had you two parted ways by then?

  • Bruce Love

    I’ve known lots of Andrews (people and one suite of software) so I’m not sure which one you mean.

  • Greg

    This one was a distributed computing environment.

  • Bruce Love

    I left that project as the ITC was mostly wrapping up … ’88 or ’89, something like that.

    I wasn’t on the core teams that did the file system, mail system, and UI.   I might have gotten a couple lines of code into the UI but just as a footnote.   There, I mostly worked on software construction tools (think “autotools” but earlier in history and much, much better … but my contributions were lost in copyright controversy hell).   

    You know, you can just contact me by email if you want to swap war stories.

  • Greg

    I was but a lowly, middle-of-the-road undergraduate user of said system, not a contributor.

    Probably no need for email, though I find it totally hilarious that a cursory search popped up a band called ‘The Thomas Lord Old Gits’.

    Gits.  Ha.

  • Bruce Love

     That’s better than the porn store, Thomas Lord, with the famously large….  um… following.

    (Yup, “gits” is very funny in this context.  Clearly that band is the work of some Arch rival.)

  • Greg

    Clearly that is the case.

  • EBGuy

    That’s a good question Charles.  I remember when many cities passed their ‘Segway Exemption Laws’, but I’m having a hard time finding anything in the BMC.  The bicycle definition explicitly mentions two wheels in a tandem configuration, but the motorized bicycle only says ‘two wheels’ (and you can’t ride them on sidewalks).  Note that the motorized bicycle definition also says that it has an ‘automatic transmission’, so maybe that is how Segway gets its exemption.

  • The Sharkey

    But the Segway is intimidating and takes up so much of the sidewalk that it interferes with pedestrians.

    I wouldn’t say they take up any more of the sidewalk or are any more intimidating than shopping carts full of garbage “personal property” or sidewalk camping, and there seems to be a contingent of vocal supporters for those things here in Berkeley.


  • EBGuy

    Meanwhile, at Cragmont, they are looking at adding a fourth kindergarten next year and one class faces the prospect of spending part of the day in a windowless room.
    See school board meeting public testimony at:

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Meanwhile, across the Bay, the arch-conservatives of San Francisco are using “industrial sounds” to drive homeless campers away from the Civic Auditorium.  http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/05/02/BA3I1OBQ7J.DTL

  • Marc Weinstein

    sure enough, as the owner of Brainwash got the general “thumbs up” from zoning on change of use to a “green” laundromat and cafe, complete with massive solar on the roof, etc…, the he NEEDED for the banks, Ken moved in and purchased the property with cash, actually LESS than Jeff Brainwash was asking. The seller, a woman from SoCal, who was ill, needed to sell rather quickly, apparently. A similar move on Ken’s part to what he did when RCD got their permits/incentives from the city to build their project on the empty lot- Ken went in and paid cash to stop them in their tracks- 20 years ago…

  • Marc Weinstein

    It’s about time UC and the City each devote the cost of a patrol officer to be present on our beautiful Avenue. The lack thereof for the last many years has, essentially, been a giant “F-OFF” from both entities who ARE SUPPOSED TO CARE how things look/feel down here…