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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  • Eastbayopine

     well said……common sense has become far too uncommon….

  • Jesse Arreguin

    Sharkey, you and I both respectfully disagree on whether an anti-sit ordinance should be placed on the ballot. But I did nothing undemocratic and for you to suggest that is completely unfair and untrue. I wanted there to be a discussion, I pushed my button but the Mayor did not allow me to speak. I honestly did not know what the outcome of the vote was going to be and really wanted to present my proposal in the hopes that we can reach a compromise. That unfortunately did not happen. I did not want to fillibuster but wanted there to be discussion. Unfortunately, the Mayor did not permit that to happen. I did not initiate the singing and only participated after it appeared that the meeting had adjourned after almost 20 minutes of a lack of a quroum. Anyways, im sure we can keep going back and forth. We respecfully do not agree on the merits of an anti-sit law or on who is to blame for what went wrong at last night’s meeting.

  • Guest

    Mr. Arreguin,  you need to say something regarding the singing.  You may not have initiated it, but you and your colleagues sure were perpetuating it. 

  • Guest

    You may consider posting the measure.  Many of your readers don’t know what the measure is.  Arreguin’s proposal was only available after 5PM.  It is over 200 pages long and this is not proper procedure nor is it to be considered an alternative motion.  It was simply a maneuver to forestall.  How is Council or the Mayor suppose to discuss something that they have not had a chance to read.  I believe that is not even legal procedure.  The proposal is full of mistaken assumptions but one needs to read the measure first to understand that.

  • Guest

    Have you read the entire measure? Don’t you think Arreguin could have presented his proposal weeks ago? Why wait until the meeting?  It is political posturing, that is why.  Staying the same is not progressing, which is what this tactic was all about.

  • Star

    Read the measure.  Apparently you are simply reading the propaganda put out by WAA.

  • 4Eenie

    I am very impressed with the way you have articulated the “Berkeley” issue. Thank you.

  •  A night out from hell.

  •  Amen.

  • The whole thing is the absurd drama (read comedy) of Berkeley politics. Thank you Eric Panzer for you well stated comments. The whole thing makes me sad. Listening to “progressive” people call people names and throw tantrums is depressing. All in the name of…. Free Speech? Improving society? Really? I’ve got a great idea… Why don’t you insure your irrelevance by acting out like children. That will definitely make Berkeley and the world a better place to live!

  • Berkeleyfarm

    Standing ovation from me, Eric!

  • Sophbeau

    I’m sorry but you’re wrong: the ordinance in fact will prohibit sitting on chairs on the sidewalk (except at commercial profit centers such as cafes). 

  • The Sharkey

    Councilmember Arreguin, I don’t agree with you very often but I respect your ability to stick up for your beliefs without resorting to the childish political theater displayed by Worthington or the nasty bullying of Anderson.

    But in this case the blame lies with your friends on the Council, Worthington and Anderson, who showed absolutely no regard for their fellow Council members, the citizens of Berkeley, or even the fundamental rules of Democracy when they decided to actively filibuster the meeting to try to prevent a vote.

    Their behavior was unconscionable and inexcusable, and while I realize that you may have been caught up in the moment I am disappointed that you took part in it, however small that part may have been.

  • The Sharkey

    Perhaps that language will be in the final version of the ordinance, but it is unclear in the draft.
    Either way, benches, planters, and other public seating would still be available for anyone to sit in/on for any amount of time.

    If your real concern is people being able to sit down, why not fight to get more public seating instead of trying to block the ordinance?

  • Carol Denney

    The previous comment misses an important point. Even conceding, and I am happy to do so, that singing civil rights songs might look childish to some, no one, certainly not the chair of the meeting, is at that point entitled to toss all the relevant rules for conducting the meeting.

    Robert’s rules is pretty clear on this point: Section 42:
    “The right of members to debate and, make motions cannot be cut off by
    the chair’s putting a question to vote with such rapidity as to
    prevent the members getting the floor after the chair has inquired if
    the assembly is ready for the question.”

    I was there and I still am not sure why the council was not allowed to discuss the item.

  • Akkizza

    Seconded. I appreciate Jesse’s research and respect his attempt to put forth alternative remedies to a very real problem. That’s the way to approach this issue (although not at the last minute).

    But then…FAIL! The singing and chaos makes me feel ashamed and disappointed. That’s not dialogue, that’s not appealing to people’s better selves, that’s not respect or dignity. That’s tea party strategy, where the loudest disruptor wins. Where shutting down dialogue is the aim. I can’t tell you how much I hate that. It’s poison to functional government AND functional relationships in all aspects of life.

  • Guest

    Carol, first off, just because they’re civil rights songs doesn’t mean you can use them for disruptive purposes.

    Second off, Robert’s Rules are not exactly legally binding.  The Berkeley City Council has its own rules.

    Third off, you forgot the rest of Section 42 of Robert’s Rules, which is posted on the Daily Planet:

    “But if the chair gives ample opportunity for members to claim the floor before putting the
    question and they do not avail themselves of it, they cannot claim the right of debate after the voting has commenced.”
    As I recall, Bates was trying to get you guys to stop and come to order.  Maybe next time you’ll stop singing and let the process play out.  You missed your chance, see?

  • The Sharkey

    … no one … is at that point entitled to toss all the relevant rules for conducting the meeting.

    But that’s exactly what you did.
    For you and Worthington and all the rest of you to knowingly violate the rules for conduct and procedure and then come back and whine about procedure not being followed is laughably hypocritical.

  • Virgil Starkwell

    I suggest that the City of Berkeley spend some additional funds that it does not have on straight jackets for some of their citizens.

  • Berkeleyborn234

    Agreed with Eric Panzer and Sharky. We used to hang out on Telegraph on the way home from Willard hitting Silverball and Blondies on the way. There were always a few homeless people begging but I didn’t experience aggressive pan handling. In the early 90’s, the area got rougher at night and the city banned parking to keep people from driving to Telegraph to hoorad. As an adult, I stopped going to Telegraph because of the aggressive pan handling and intimidation by beggars, terrible parking, and lack of decent stores. Emeryville has it figured out, Cheap parking, safe shopping. One bummer is all the chains but Berkeley could attract a lot more small, non- chain businesses if the key business districts were not so dumpy, especially Telegraph.

  • Jesse Arreguin

    The actual recommendation is contained in the first 3 pages and the rest is background. The proposal was posted online on the Berkeley Daily Planet website and was linked to on Berkeleyside yesterday afternoon. The Open Government Ordinance does not permit a Councilmember to submit an amendment to an item prior to the meeting. It has to be presented at the meeting and the Council has to vote to accept the late item, which is what the Council did in this case. I was planning on speaking to the item and introducing a motion to adopt it, but the Council proceeded to a vote without Council discussion, despite the fact that I pushed my button and asked to be recognized. It was not a maneuver to forestall but rather look at the many issues involved with people sitting on the sidewalk and try to put forward a compromise that can move us towards a path towards addressing homelessness and helping our small businesses. I guess a sincere attempt to put forward a compromise and hard work is recognized and instead is being attacked and painted as a ploy when it really was an attempt to do something constructive for businesses and the homeless. I can keep responding to these inaccurate statements, but it is taking too much time. I do however feel it is important to at least clarify so people who are reading these comments know my perspective. 

  • Jesse Arreguin

    I could not since it would have been too late for it to be on the agenda and the only way it could be presented to Council is to introduce it at the meeting and have Council vote to accept the late item, which is what Council did. Also it took a considerable amount of time for me and my staff to research case law, academic studies, existing laws, I went on a Police ride along to see how laws were enforced. You cant just throw public policy together. Unlike the sit ordinance presented by the Mayor, I tried to provide background information on costs, legal issues, enforcement, and other issues so that Council and the public can have more comprehensive information to make an informed decision. I think its important for policy makers to have all the information to make a decision. My proposal and my intentions keep being misrepresented by commenters and it is incredibly frustrating and disheartening. I do not believe that we should do nothing. I was trying to do something to help businesses and the homeless and instead I am being attacked and misrepresented. Whether or not you agree with my perspective, please at least appreciate that I am trying to seek compromises and that I am trying to present facts and have an informed discussion.  

  • The Sharkey

    I believe you, and I appreciate that you are trying to come up with alternate solutions instead of simply trying to be obstructionist and simply say “NO.”

    It is unfortunate that you are being lumped in with Worthington and Anderson, because I think you present a much more reasonable and intelligent argument for your beliefs than they do.

  • AnthonySanchez

    Oh, Sharky, how do you always get me to fundamentally disagree with what you say, but then you find a way to make me think, “He’s not half-bad and wouldn’t mind drinking a beer with him?” I appreciate that we’ve been tending to understand and respect each other more after we agree to disagree.

  • stupid little chairs

    Well, people will use any hook they can. And the extreme left wing is FINALLY getting drowned out by those of us who are still left of center,  pay taxes and vote and are deeply DEELPY tired of the career homeless comandeering our streets.

  • Anonymous

     That’s enough “Bruce”, really.

  • Anonymous

     This is why we have elections.  Political theater that attempts to prevent something from being voted on is a totalitarian tactic that I want nothing to do with.

  • Anonymous

    Why did you wait until the last minute to write and submit your proposal?

  • Anonymous

     Wait, you have staff too?  Man, I hope we aren’t paying you guys.

  • KoolKite

    Mr. Arreguin,
    ( and your Aide who by the way should not seek sympathy for his workload on comments sections)
    The ideas in your proposal have been done here over and over. Berkeley Homeless Outreach, Berkeley Mobile Crisis, bike officers, Animal Services etc etc at nauseaum. The ideas you put forward are essentially plagarism of other cities’ work and Berkeley’s own work. Read Eric P’s first post. It speaks to most of my neighborhood perfectly. We have list faith in you and democracy in our otherwise potentially wonderful city.

  • KoolKite

    We have lost lost lost faith

  • guest

    That was not an amendment, it was an entirely new proposal.  Why can’t you abide by a vote from the Citizens of Berkeley the ones you were voted to represent.

  • guest

    You knew very well the outcome of the vote was going to be.  You were voted in to represent your constituents in your district.  Did you even bother to poll them?  You are free to express your opinion as much as we are free to express ours.  Let us vote our opinion on the ballot, you have had your say.  The only democratic answer is to let the people vote and you are/were determined to suppress the majority vote because you know you won’t like the outcome.  

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Wow, one of the best comments ever on bside. Well done!

  • Haselstein

    While I agree with most of the commenters about the outrageous behavior on Shattuck and Telegraph, I just can’t see that the ordinance will do anything. Have you been to the San Francisco Civic Center or Powell Street since sit/lie was enacted there? 

    Regarding the council meeting, I wasn’t there, but t do not share your outrage. Obviously the mayor knew he had the votes, and he just wanted to ram it through. 

  • hardlyaguest

    Sitting or lying on the sidewalk downtown is not restful. But it does provide a highly visible platform for some to state this case: “F–k You”. Making that statement verbally, I believe, is protected as free speech. Where it has gone wrong for gutter punks and their doggies is that they actually mean to say “I’m gonna f–k with you”; Intimidation, crapping on the streets, ruining you business etc.. 

    Those things are illegal now. But our cops have been betrayed so many times (by our permissive city) in their attempts to enforce quality of life laws, that they won’t lift a finger until the ballot box says we really, really want something for the $200k you cost us a piece, so now clean the place up.

    The savviest among the Left Overs realize what a defining moment this will be. If the ordinance passes, no more credible bitching about “the Man” oppressing us – Because the PEOPLE are the “Man”.

  • PragmaticProgressive


    Council member Arreguin, I need to see you distance yourself from Worthington and Anderson. Their tactics diminish you and all of us.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Interesting, I see a number of thoughtful, respectful, even deferential comments from Sharkey. I also see him reconsidering his positions when presented with new information. Your assessment simply doesn’t ring true.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Plagiarism isn’t really a flaw in public policy. I wish Berkeley would spend more time sourcing solutions from elsewhere.

  • Haselstein

    So I don’t get it. If indeed we already have ordinances and are not enforcing them, why are we not enforcing them? 

  • Carolyn

    Sharkey clearly hasn’t read the proposed measure.  It bans sitting on chairs you bring yourself.  Or anything else you bring except a medical device.  We can legally sit on chairs businesses set out on the sidewalf — if and only if we are a customer.  It will ban the accordianist who sits on a box he brings.  It will ban the seller of Street Spirit who sits on a crate.  People blocking doorways whether sitting or standing are in violation of California state Penal Code and can be arrested already.  People sitting on the sidewalk not blocking entrances are not in violation of anything unless this unconstitutional measure passes and survives the increasingly rightwing court.  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.  Trying to eradicate a group has a long and nasty history and I don’t want it to happen in my home town.

  • workin’toohard

    Well said!   I also think your “stupid little chairs” pseudonym is wonderful.  

  • workin’toohard

    Julie, are Berkeleyside readers supposed to know who you are?  Why can’t we simply benefit from the exchange of comments, thoughts and banter without needing to pinpoint a name.  Seeking to ID posters is very stifling.  FYI – I find Sharkey thoughtful and passionate about issues.  Who Sharkey ” is” does not matter. 

  • Carolyn

    Check out California Penal Code 647(c)
    It is available for any shopowner who finds the entry to his or her shop blocked by someone whether sitting, standing or lying down.  A police officer can arrest and or cite the offender with either an infraction of a misdemeanor.  We don’t need to have a ban on a person sitting or lying down when they are tires and can’t find a bench.  

    I don’t know why police don’t come when you call them.  I was once church secretary and we tried to rent our parking lot on a monthly basis.  Then the Cal Water Polo team discovered our lot and filled it up before our renters got there.  We would call the police and no one ever came.  We never betrayed our police in any way, but somehow they didn’t arrive.  Finally we rented our lot to one of those parking agencies who have acquired control over all the lots in the campus area.  Somehow when they called the police they got someone to come.

    As far as crapping on the streets, I was dismayed one morning to find the public toilet in MLK park locked up.  Since I am older and clearly middle class I am not chased out of local establishments whose restrooms are labeled “for customers only”. 

    There is a name for a species which attacks its young.  It is “extinct”.

  • carolyn

    to expand on why police do and don’t come, I think business will have better luck with getting someone to come than we did.
    and that was about 25 years ago.

  • Guest

    YES!  They are opponents are now the Stupid Little Chairs party.  LOVE IT!!!

  • You nailed it Eric. As a general rule to protect my personal safety and sanity, I will not shop downtown because of its multi-year status as a cesspool. If (and that’s a very big IF) the city ever gets its act together to enforce social standards that are observed across the majority of North America, Europe, and the developing world, I’ll begin patronizing downtown businesses on a regular basis. As long as the city permits it to remain like a chaotic, filthy cesspool, I’ll continue to shop on 4th St., Emeryville, SF., etc.

    For now however, my brain is hard wired to avoid downtown whenever possible (which means 99.9% of the time).

  • The Sharkey

    I don’t think they finished it until the last minute. Coming up with an accurately sourced alternate proposal without any help from the other anti-Civil Sidewalks Council members would be a really time-consuming endeavor.

    Whether you agree with Arreguin’s proposal or not, he deserves credit for putting it together on such short notice.

  • The issue of pseudonyms posting here is an issue that has been beat to death. Please take a look at this post with an open mind and reflect.

  • That would be fantastic, wouldn’t it? In business it’s called learning from Best Practices. I’m not convinced that the city understands that basic concept