Berkeley sitting ban goes to ballot after raucous meeting

City Councilmember Kriss Worthington left the dais to join the audience to sing a song protesting the sitting ban. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

While three councilmembers were singing protest songs with the audience, the Berkeley City Council abruptly voted 6-0-3 early Wednesday morning to place a contentious sitting ban on the November ballot – a move that was immediately challenged as illegal by its opponents.

The three councilmembers who abstained from voting are planning to challenge the legality of the vote because it was held before the council had debated the measure and before all public speakers had commented.

“I was stunned,” said Councilmember Max Anderson after the measure passed amidst the chaos. “I did not vote. It’s outrageous that they ran this thing through without any discussion. This illegal motion is the last in a series of anti-democratic positions taken by this mayor and his cronies.”

Councilmember Jesse Arreguín, who had been planning to presented an alternative proposal to the council that Bates did not allow to be discussed – but was not permitted by Bates to do so – said the spontaneous vote was “the most outrageous thing I’ve seen the council do.”

“We’re going to have to get lawyers to look at this tape and evaluate it,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the third abstention and the first council member to join the impassioned community members in song.

Berkeley residents against a proposed sitting ban carried signs inside City Council chambers Tuesday night. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The three councilmembers issued a press release Wednesday afternoon accusing Mayor Tom Bates of censoring free speech, and possibly violating the Brown Act. They called it “BatesGate,” and said Bates did not allow the three to address the body as many times as they wanted to, even though they had pushed their buttons to speak. Bates was not available to comment by press time Wednesday.

The vote came as the three councilmembers had left the dais to join people in the audience to sing “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Before calling the question to a vote, Bates had repeatedly asked the three to stop singing and return to their seats, and councilmembers shouted at each other from across the room. All councilmembers who voted in favor of placing the ordinance on the ballot left the room quickly afterward without commenting.

The sitting ban would prohibit sitting on sidewalks in commercial districts between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Once the law goes into effect, in July 2013, violators would receive a $50 fine.

The ordinance says that unruly sidewalk dwellers have caused harm to businesses and that patrons “increasingly choose not to conduct business in Berkeley commercial areas, but instead go to other cities where the shopping areas are perceived to be safer, cleaner, and generally more hospitable.”

By the time the frustrated Bates called the vote, more than 40 community members had voiced their opposition to the measure. Those who spoke included City Council interns, UC Berkeley student government representatives, homeless people, and lawyers.

“Let’s get real, we know who this is aimed at,” said Marsha Feinland, a former State Senate candidate. “Can we really blame the homeless and mentally ill for the economic crisis and the collapse of downtown Berkeley?”

Ann Fagan Ginger sits on the floor to emphasize her opposition to a proposed anti-sitting ordinance as she addresses the City Council in Berkeley on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. Photo: David Yee

“This sounds a lot like selective enforcement and economic profiling,” said UC Berkeley student Brittnay Whitehill. “I don’t think threatening someone with incarceration will build trust.”

A sole speaker advocated for the measure’s placement on the ballot. “This is the final piece of the puzzle needed to make the commercial district welcoming,” said John DeClercq, the co-chair of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. However, the measure has received strong support from many downtown merchants, who say the people sitting in front of their doors have been bad for business.

Earlier Tuesday, Arreguín had released his “Compassionate Sidewalks Plan,” which he had planned to formally introduce at the council meeting before it was abruptly adjourned. The plan includes the creation of a working group comprised of city and police representatives, homeless people, business owners, and attorneys to address existing and necessary laws. The plan also recommends increased funding for day use shelters, youth shelters, public restrooms, and mental health services.

“The prevalence of homelessness is indicative, rather than causal, of an economic decline,” Arreguín wrote in his report. “Unfortunately, history is replete with example of ‘scapegoating’ classes of individuals during times of economic hardship.”

Becky O’Malley, the editor of the Berkeley Daily Planet, wears red plastic chair earrings to represent her opposition to a sitting ban. Many people wore the chairs, which came in red or florescent green, at the meeting. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Though many speakers expressed anger and dismay at the ordinance, the mood in the packed room was spirited and lively. Throughout the night several popular songs were performed with adapted lyrics and all speakers received wild applause — or hisses.

By the time most opponents and proponents had shuffled out of the room, in either exhaustion or frustration, Worthington was still clasping hands with those who remained, singing loudly.

“There’s quite a few of us who are probably going to go and get arrested if they pass this law,” he said.

Opponents of sitting ban gear up for fight
Downtown ambassadors help, monitor the homeless
Berkeley sitting ban progresses towards November ballot [6.13.12]

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  • The Sharkey

    I might have my numbers wrong on this one, but I believe I read that Berkeley City Council members get paid about $24k per year, which is really low for something that can frequently be a full-time job.

    The amount we pay our Council members is actually a problem, because with the system the way it is right now (long, contentious, frequent meetings) its difficult for a Council member to have a 9-5 job in addition to their Council duties which means that most council members need to be retired, self-employed, or independently wealthy.

  • The Sharkey

    Unfortunately we’re still arguing about a rough draft, and not the final wording of the ordinance. The draft is very explicit in its ban of sitting on sidewalks directly or on non-chair objects like duffel bags or backpacks.

    I agree that the draft is vague, and clarity will probably be added in the final draft. If the anti-Civil Sidewalks crowd was worried about people not being able to sit on their own chairs, perhaps they should have been arguing that the ban be intentionally modified to allow people to sit in chairs that they brought from home (like they’re doing in their protests) rather than trying to disrupt the meeting.

    You don’t have a Constitutional right to sit on the sidewalk in a business district during business hours.
    If this measure makes it to the voters (and it probably will) it’s very likely that it will pass.

    Instead of pitching a fit and engaging in futile, feel-good, hackneyed hippie sing-alongs these folks would probably have more of an impact if they argued for exceptions to be added into the ordinance, or for additional public seating to be added to mitigate the effects of the ban.

    References to “encampments” are a clear indication that the intention is
    not ensuring entry into stores but rather removal of people from the
    city altogether.

    Nonsense. The ban only covers specific shopping districts during specific hours. There are public parks where all-day sitting on the ground is allowed within a very short distance of the two major areas that this ordinance would target.

  • The Sharkey

    The people had the right to speak until midnight or past midnight, once
    they voted to extend the meeting.  If we chose to read poetry or sing
    that was our right. There is NOTHING in the city charter that prevents

    Ah, but the people are limited to allotted time amounts to speak their piece on issues, something that the anti-Civil Sidewalks crowd completely ignored when they launched into their song-and-dance routine in an attempt to silence discussion and prevent debate from occurring. Please don’t lie to us, or yourself, and pretend that that little concert was anything other than simple obstructionist filibustering.

    I hope you don’t stop posting, Julie! We may disagree on certain issues, but I think Berkeleyside’s comments are at their best when voices from all sides are participating.

    I can’t make it to Council meetings most of the time, but thanks to the great video archive of Council meetings the City hosts, anyone who wants to can watch the meetings as a live-stream or after they happen:

    As for the complaints about the tone of discussion here, I don’t think it’s any worse than what’s slung around in Council meetings. The levels of “rudeness” here are overwhelmingly exceeded at almost every Council meeting. And, unlike what happens at City Council meetings, outbursts of profanity and egregious personal attacks here at Berkeleyside are usually deleted or cleaned up by moderators.

    PS: I don’t work for the Mayor (I didn’t even vote for him last time). I don’t work for any Council members. I’m not involved with the Chamber of Commerce. I don’t work for a Developer or in any field related to development. I have never donated to or been involved with the campaign of any Berkeley politician. I hope that helps.

  • guest

    If you were not there, watch the tape.  The measure Berkeley is proposing is not at all the SF has.  Read the measure.  Ram it through? 

  • George Dorn

    That would presumably be the question that Councilmember Arreguin’s “working group” would address. See page 1 of his recommendation. Some of the bullet points for the working group are: “Enforcement of existing laws and how it can be improved”, “What new laws are needed, if any?”

    However, the late date at which this report was submitted does unfortunately suggest that it was only prepared once the reality dawned on Mr. Arreguin that the sit-lie ordinance would actually pass the council and be submitted to the voters. The issues behind this debate have been with us for decades, and the voters at large have previously spoken on them, in the form of Measure O in 1994, only to have their will thwarted by the city government’s failure to follow through in the wake of a change in the composition of the City Council in 1996.

    Nevertheless I’m intrigued by elements of the report, especially item 2, which would require the City Manager, Chief of Police, and City Attorney to see how existing laws could be used to enforce reasonable standards of behavior, “not necessarily focusing on whether someone is sitting on a sidewalk, but whether they are engaged in an activity that substantially interferes with other people’s use of the sidewalk and public safetey.” The next sentence says that it’s important to focus on “specific behavior that is disorderly and may pose a threat to public safetey.”

    What I would like to know, aside from the likelihood that the proposed working group and committee would really produce something concrete instead of getting mired in deliberations and then blocked by what passes for a political process in Berkeley, is what, specifically, the authors would construe as “substantially interfering” with my use of the sidewalk, and what they mean by “disorderly.” Because frankly, I am not particularly bothered by street kids or James Armstrong provided they keep to themselves or sit with their funny signs, but people who go out of their way to attract the attention of passersby (i.e., me) through physical gestures, approaches, or loud, braying calls of “spare some change” make it extremely unpleasant to walk through downtown.

  • Gimpytroll

    For the record, I would read a site called “Sharkeyside” before reading BDP. Just saying.

  • signoradefarge

    Very well said.

  • Berkeley voter

     I pretty much show my interest in Berkeley at the ballot box.

  • Meliflaw

    As in navy-blue blazers? Perhaps cream linen for summer? Good idea! I, too, would like to see our citizenry looking a little more distingué.

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    I would like to echo @westbezerkeley:disqus ‘s position and remind folks that there are many valid reasons for wishing to protect one’s anonymity while engaging in a community forum in which one cares about the issues being discussed.   I think it’s great that there are some folks who have no fear of repercussions and chose to use their real names.  But stop name calling and hating on those of us who at choose to be pseudonymous (with a reputation if you click our profiles) while still contributing to the discussion.

  • Guest

    Agreed.  There’s a lot of hostility coming from left wing extremists in this city when we liberals aren’t walking the line enough.  And when they’re whipped up into a self-righteous frenzy they call us conservatives at the very least, and often fascists and nazis.  Name-calling isn’t too hard to take, but since this lot seems to think they can do just about anything to anyone they disagree with under the murky banner of “freedom of expression”, they can act unpredictably.  Who would want to expose themselves to that?

    Hell, the reason regular left-of-center folks aren’t showing up at city council meetings is because of the open hostility and lack of self-restraint exhibited by said crowd.  

    So yeah, that’s why we go by pseudonyms.


  • Margy Wilkinson

    There are several errors in the story which I will deal with later. Of the 60 speakers who addressed the sit/lie ordinance only one, a representative of the Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor.  Those who spoke against it represented a broad assortment of community members including lawyers, students, several City Council interns, social workers and professionals who provide services to the poor and homeless and ordinary residents of Berkeley. The group was diverse in every way. Attorney Osha Neumann pointed out that what had been described as an “encampment” in front of the Main Library had been cleared by the Berkeley police using existing laws — indicating there is no need for another one. 

    Let’s be clear what happened — the public spoke, then there was spontaneous singing, 3 members of the council joined the singing and the rest left the room.  After about 20 minutes the Mayor and 4 other council members returned to the room and the Mayor moved to an immediate vote on the matter — there were still 4 or 5 community members who had not spoken and NO ONE on the council had spoken either for or against placing the matter on the ballot in November.  Council member Arreguín had a substitute motion which the Mayor refused to recognize and again on which there was NO discussion. The vote was taken and meeting adjourned. It was a shameful display of broken democracy.

    #1 — Council members Anderson, Worthington and Arreguín were in their seats when the “vote” was taken. Council member Worthington was trying to tell the Mayor that there were Council members who had indicated that they wanted to speak and that the Mayor was attempting to move to a vote BEFORE they had spoken. I have no idea how Council member Winograd voted if she voted at all. There certainly were people singing – there had been people singing all evening.  Several people “sang” their comments on the ordinance.
    #2 — The only council member I heard “shout” was Council member Moore who shouted at Council member Worthington.
    #3 — “…Bates did not allow the three to address the body as many times as they wanted to…”  Funny phrasing — no council member was allowed to speak at all on the matter. The motion was never read and never debated.
    #4 — “By the time most opponents and proponents had shuffled out of the room,
    in either exhaustion or frustration, Worthington was still clasping
    hands with those who remained, singing loudly.”  Didn’t happen this way — I don’t know that it’s important but seems like if this is going to be said it should be accurate.  After the meeting was adjourned Worthington rejoined those left in the audience as we all tried to figure out what had just happened.  He encouraged folks to be calm and to work together on what seems like it might be a long struggle.
    We left the room and said good night to the police officers in the hallway who were cordial and returned our greetings.

  • Guest

     “I have no idea how Council member Winograd voted if she voted at all.”

    Wow, this is a pretty bad error for somebody to make in the process of correcting the errors of others.  Or was this a way to put this person down?

  • Guest

    So after a while of “spontaneous singing” I recall the mayor asking repeatedly for people to stop and come to order.  I also remember, at one point, him saying “okay, now you’re preventing us from having OUR freedom of speech”.  You guys kept doing whatever the hell you wanted to do, so I presume council left for a moment to debate, came back, and voted.  See, you’re in deep denial of what went on. Innocent, spontaneous singing it was not.  It was singing used as an obstructionist tactic and the majority of council weren’t going to sit there and let you abuse the process.  

    That’s what happened.  Trouble is you’re so incredibly biased you can’t seem to see that.

    As for the diverse crowd you speak of, the only reason you didn’t have as many people show up as last time was because we all knew how council was going to vote, and proponents of the measure tend to be mistreated by opponents, who often shout them down and call them fascists.  So you didn’t get a diversity of OPINION because you publicly demonize and antagonize the hell out of people who disagree with you. 

  • George Dorn

    I agree 100% but I would like to add that I’ve seen some recent posters’ legitimacy questioned by drive-by comments implying that they’re Bruce Love, who’s been banned/suspended (take your pick) on this board. Bruce may have stepped over a line, but it’s inappropriate to silence others using this tactic.

  • sky

    Funny how my suggesting that people move to Walnut Creek/ other suburban utopias is taken as cliche, but Sharkey’s suggestion of North Korea is humor. hmmm…

  • Guest

    Well it’s an interesting one, George.  I never saw Bruce as being a “bully”, just VERY engaged in argument, which is great.  The problem was this one day when he started to flip out and talked about how he was going to take legal action against others in the forum.  It was like “whoa, I thought we were all just debating, here.  What happened?!”  See, forums are great because we can speak our mind without fear of consequences, and when one of us becomes abusive, we have AWESOME Berkeleyside moderators who are taking the time to keep it civil.  Bruce compromised that one day.  This business of his demanding an apology also makes you kinda like “really, dude?  Really?”

  • signoradefarge

    Are we really helping the truly homeless and the mentally ill by letting them lounge on the sidewalk?  Wouldn’t they be better off in job training and placement programs, treatment facilities, rehab programs, etc. which might get them off the streets?

  • GeorgeDorn

    Oh, I’m not questioning the decision to give Bruce a time out. I might have called it differently (or not) but it wasn’t unreasonable, as you say. What I’m pointing to is people who are now replying to some postings by accusing the writer of being Bruce in disguise. I flagged one of them, so it may no longer be visible.

  • Haselstein

    As far as I can tell, NOTHING prevents the city from enforcing its existing ordinances. So I ask again, why is it not doing so? We’ve already voted to ban lying; now we’re talking about banning sitting. What’s next: we’re gong to ban standing (and then discuss whether that includes standing on one’s head)? We have ordinances that deal with problem behavior, which is actually the issue. 

  • sky

    You must have missed my link to the measure further down.

  • sky

    Funny: I live & work downtown, and I find it to be consistently busy over the past 15 years… lots of people there. Lots of people shopping, buying ice cream, lunch, comic books, & etc. 

  • Swashing

    Wow. This guy for City Council.

  • serkes

    The Berkeley Theatrics Company rehearsing for Woody Guthrie’s 100th Birthday celebration on Bastille Day?


  • Guest

    According to the posted signs, sitting already is banned on the Shattuck median between Cedar and Vine.  I just saw a web site that stated that this is the best place to enjoy your slice of Cheeseboard Pizza Collective pizza.

    I can’t say I’ve noticed police cruising by when the area is packed with pizza eaters, but it’s hard to imagine that hasn’t happened.  It’s obviously IMPOSSIBLE that the police don’t know this ‘violation’ takes place every sunny day that the Collective is open.

    I keep trying to get anybody who posts to this site to explain why (in the legal sense) that this is OK but sitting elsewhere by a different group of people is not.  It is impossible for me to imagine that the police will become involved if this questionable measure passes.

  • Guest

     Maybe you are correct, but why assign this issue to the police department and the court system?

  • 4Eenie


  • hardlyaguest

    There is a name for species who reject their violently aberrant: Survivors.

  • hardlyaguest

    Because they get things done.

  • Guest

     We have ongoing property crimes on my block (several per week) that the police neither investigate nor solve.  I would love to have them at least TRY to get THAT done.

  • berkopinionator

    Sidewalks are for walking.  If they were for sitting, they would be known as “side-sits.”

  • bgal4

    I think the purpose of expanding the  ordinance tracks with the typical politics in dysfunctional Berkeley. Rather than face down the loud group in city council when enforcement finally occurs city officials will have public to blame for enforcement.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Police enforce most quality-of-life laws based on complaints.  Eg, if you complain about someone drinking in a park, the police will come and ticket them.

    I presume no one has complained about pizza eaters in the median.

    I presume that merchants will complain about people sitting on the sidewalks near their stores.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Yes, that is if the entry is actually blocked.  It  doesn’t apply if someone is sitting on the sidewalk near the entry and harrassing all the people passing by.

    I cannot understand why people have no sympathy for merchants, most of whom are hard-working, many of whom are immigrants who are just getting by – and who could end up on the streets themselves if panhandlers drive away their customers.

  • Charles_Siegel

     I also appreciate Jesse’s attempts to look for reasonable compromises – even when I disagree with him.

  • Anonymous

     And driveways are for driving.  If they were for parking they’d be known as “parkways”.  Oh wait…

  • The Sharkey

    Driveways are the way that people are supposed to drive to park their cars in their garage.

    While our increasingly materialistic lifestyles may lead many people in Berkeley to fill their garages with junk and park their cars in the driveway, that does not change the meaning of the term nor the original purpose for the driveway.

  • The Sharkey

    Charles is completely correct.
    The Police in Berkeley are usually pretty busy.
    Unless there are active complaints about things in the area, they aren’t going to have the time to cruise around low-crime regions looking for trouble.

  • Anonymous

     Relax man, it’s just an old joke. Where I used to live in Oakland tenants in my building used to park on the sidewalk parallel to the building.

  • Che Joubert

     I chuckle at the idea that anyone would label ‘conservative’, attitudes that originated 50 years years ago –  Oh, that is SO long ago, I guess, if you’re kind of young and kiddy identified. When an idea originated doesn’t define whether it’s progressive or conservative anyway. Progressive and conservative values alternate over time in their acceptance and popularity. Also, it is not a ‘totalitarian tactic’ to attempt to prevent something from being voted on, aka Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ for instance. 

  • luckypablo

    Let Berkeley vote.  Many of us who try and shop and relax and socialize downtown and on Telegraph are tired of the lack of civility and courtesy of folks who think they own the sidewalk.  

  • sky

    >Because they get things done

    *chokes on coffee*Good one! lolol