Op-ed on Measure S: We can do better with civil sidewalks

By Craig Becker

Craig Becker owns the Caffe Mediterraneum at 2475 Telegraph Ave., is the president of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, lives in the Willard neighborhood, and has served on the Homeless Commission for the last five years.

Like most people I wear several hats. In my case that includes Telegraph Avenue small business owner, Berkeley resident, local shopper, member of the Telegraph Business Improvement District (TBID), and commissioner on the Berkeley Homeless Commission. The different roles can have different biases. However I feel confident endorsing Measure S from all of these perspectives.

Measure S prohibits sitting on commercial sidewalks in Berkeley between the hours of 7am and 10pm. It has the expected exceptions:  medical reasons, parades, permitted activities, etc.

Since moving to the area in 1979, I’ve been a frequent visitor to Telegraph. It has always had more than its share of street people. However, the recent phenomenon of large encampments of nomadic youth on the commercial sidewalks has had a particularly negative impact.

In 2006 I took over the Caffe Mediterraneum on Telegraph Avenue between Haste and Dwight. The business was in bad shape, but we were able to grow it at a steady rate of over 30% year over year in spite of the bad economy. This continued until the fall of 2009 when a group of nomadic youth with their dogs (usually pit bulls), belongings, and debris started camping on the sidewalk down the block from us. The effect was immediate and dramatic – the growth rate went from plus 30% to negative and sales actually declined.

This difference of over 30% was not due to the general economy, high rents or having the wrong mix of retail shops on the street. In fact, it wasn’t due to any of the reasons that the opponents of Measure S give for declining retail sales on Telegraph and Downtown. None of those factors changed from one day to the next. It was due to the fact that there are large numbers of people who are uncomfortable walking by unsanitary encampments of youths and their pit bulls in order to reach our café.

When you add frequent squabbling and drug and alcohol use into the mix, it can actually feel dangerous to walk by. While the individuals change, the encampment continues to the present and it continues to have a huge negative impact on the street.

We aren’t the only shop affected – every business on our block has suffered. Two went out of business, leaving vacant storefronts that have yet to be filled. Others have indicated that they plan to do the same unless the sidewalk situation improves dramatically. One of the shops that already closed, Tienda Ho, had two stores – one in Berkeley and one in Santa Barbara. I asked the owner why they were closing after 40 years. She said they were keeping the Santa Barbara store and that many of her best Berkeley customers visited the Santa Barbara shop more often than the Berkeley one anyway. They no longer came to Telegraph because it felt uncomfortable and unsafe.

The core group of sidewalk campers are nomadic youth (or “travelers”, as they are often called) who travel a circuit up and down the West Coast and beyond. Travelers may stay days, weeks or semi-permanently in a given spot. Traveling is a lifestyle choice for this group and, when approached by homeless outreach personnel, they decline to participate in the services that are aimed at long-term lifestyle changes. They are categorized as “service-resistant.”

Nobody in Berkeley sits on commercial sidewalks because they have nowhere else to sit – Berkeley has public parks, benches, libraries, shelters, public buildings and numerous places people can sit. Measure S doesn’t even apply to the majority of sidewalks in Berkeley, only those zoned commercial. The travelers camp on commercial sidewalks because that is where they want to be.

I don’t think the primary blame for the problems I’ve described belongs with the nomadic youth. They are living the lifestyle they want and no one in Berkeley is telling them that they can’t do so. The real fault is with the City of Berkeley for allowing this behavior to continue year after year without doing anything about it. Meanwhile, starting with Seattle in 1993, some 60 cities have passed civil sidewalks ordinances. Berkeley is one of the last progressive cities on the West Coast to not have one. As other cities stopped enabling sidewalk camping, their hardcore travelers have gravitated to Berkeley.

Outreach and services by themselves have not been effective with the service-resistant travelers. Outreach by Ambassadors when combined with a civil sidewalks ordinance has proven very effective in cities like Santa Monica and Santa Cruz.

Measure S is about changing behavior and directing people into services, not writing citations. If Measure S passes, there will be almost eight months of planning and outreach before it goes into effect on July 1, 2013.  Ambassadors will be doing most of the education and outreach, as well as requesting people to abide by the ordinance once it goes into effect.  As is the case in Santa Monica and Santa Cruz, where Ambassadors do first level engagement, police will get involved only in exceptional cases where people refuse to move. Police must give a warning before a citation is written.  In the rare cases where citations are issued, the City will waive those citations for persons entering and participating in social service programs.

I invite you to join us — merchants, residents and the Mayor and other City Council Members who endorse Measure S — to stand up for civil sidewalks and sustainable commercial districts.

On November 6, vote YES on Measure S!

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles of 500 to 800 words. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related and local authors are preferred. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Visit Berkeleyside’s Voter’s Edge Berkeley for complete coverage and tracking of the city’s 10 ballot measures. Visit Berkeleyside’s Election 2012 section to see all our coverage in the run-up to Nov. 6.

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  • franhaselsteiner

    One commenter asked about existing laws. Here iHere s a list (other statutes may apply, of course):Berkeley ordinances:
    13.36.0010: Obstructing free passage in public ways
    13.36.015: Accessibility on commercial sidewalks (this is the ordinance regarding lying down and also prohibits more than two dogs)
    13.36.020: Obstructing entrance to or exit from buildings
    13.36.070: Consumption of alcoholic beverages
    13.36.090: Solicitation of sale of drgsCalifornia Penal Code:Section 647: Loitering (this includes aggressive panhandling)Sections 370 et seq.: Public nuisance


  • franhaselsteiner

    Yes, we can do better. We can do a lot better than Measure S. 

    In your heart of hearts, doesn’t this all seem kind of knee-jerk? Berkeley, the capital of free speech, is actually considering this law that cannot be applied because its application is likely unconstitutional? This law isn’t anything innovative or something that furthers human rights or the human condition. It simply replicates what other cities have done, and they have not done very much other than to move the problem along. 

    No, I don’t like being bullied by aggressive street people, but I am unwilling to violate their civil rights. 

    This proposal follows the anti-lie law, which hasn’t accomplished much, in that the community is deeply divided about how to deal with street people.  

    When Measure S doesn’t work–and it will not–what do we do next? Tar and feather people and run them out on a rail? 

    We don’t need to take a broad measure that will not be enforced to improve our streets. Jesse Arrequin has outlined a plan. The police likely know who are the consistent problems, and they are probably fewer than 20. We need to break up the problem into smaller increments that actually can be dealt with. We are an intelligent community and can do better than Measure S. 

  • Dan-o

    Monday’s San Francisco Chronicle had a front page story that put in writing what many of us have known for a long time. Sitting laws, touted as a way to run off legions of wayward youngsters, have mostly come down on the grey and balding heads of the aged and disabled. The ones too addled to get out of the way.Our Berkeley Mayor and his Republican rubber stamp council has known these results and have still pressed on because the Berkeley law on the November ballot is not about sitting at all.It’s about favors to campaign contributors (Berkeley Chamber of Commerce) and a sly way to transfer an unequal amount of Police protection to Shattuck Avenue and other commercial zones. While the police are “move along, move alonging” on the avenues, transferring no-shows to court, testifying, etc., we are being told there will be a wait for a police response to the psycho in our driveway.Hundreds came out to city hall in July to express what a bad idea this is. But one man from the chamber sealed the deal. In my neighborhood we know that if you need help from the City, you don’t call Councilman Darryl Moore, you call Kriss Worthington. Kriss, Jesse and Max are the only ones not wrapped up in the cocktail circuit and begoggled by real estate tycoons. The Mayor and the council members that support this tell me that it is only $27,000, like $27,000 is nothing. But $27,000 is a ton of money when you are feeding the hungry, saving a mortgage or keeping a shelters door open. And that $27,000 is a lie. That’s just to put it on the ballot. That doesn’t factor in the police hours, court costs, lawsuits and the untold suffering visited upon people already at the end of their rope and the costs to our neighborhoods in losing more police availability at a time when property crimes and shootings are on the rise.

  • Dan-o

    Telegraph Avenue started a steep decline starting around 1995. Cody’s Books owner Andy Ross with support of the TAA started agitating for the removal of undisirables from the Ave. At the time I told Andy that “If you run off the characters of Tele, someday you will have to hire actors to play them.” That day has come. Telegraph Ave. was at that time a world famous “scene” a little (O.K. a lot) unruly, but interesting and vital. Merchants did well and rents reflected that. Then the geniuses at TAA made sure our police ran everyone off. People that came looking for that fabled place welcome to people of all stripes, found a ghost town. No “scene” at all and people never even parked. Business, starting to suffer and business leaders, getting criticism, compunded their error by pointing the finger and cracking down on what little was left. Hence the “skid-row” you see today. People can shop anywhere, but there was only one Telegraph and your leaders threw the baby out with the bath water. Prospective renters look at the rents, and Telegraph rents are still at Tourist Attraction prices. I’ve had a great plan to revitalize Tele in a drawer here for years, when it gets bad enough that business people get rid of the leaders like Roland Peterson and that wacko at the Med Craig Becker(Who wants to have “sitting schools” for illegal sitters,like bad drivers schools.) business leaders (Bleeders?) Who have never had the slightest clue about Telegraphs dynamics………..I’ll be available.

  • Free Berkeley!

    Dude, you’re missing the point when you talk about having more shelters and beds:  these euphemistically-called “travelers” don’t want services.  And given how many services we already offer, can’t OTHER cities match us, per capita?  How much of the city needs to turn into a homeless shelter?  Shall we take in half the country’s homeless to prove how big-hearted we are?  

    Anyway, your argument is specious & spurious.  Measure S all the way, baby!!!!!

  • The Sharkey


    Learn how to read.

  • The Sharkey

    You haven’t been able to answer any of the questions put to you about how this law is supposedly redundant.

    You keep saying the measure would be redundant, so I must ask again – What currently existing laws regarding our streets prevent encampments
    of people from setting up on public sidewalks in our business districts?

  • 4Eenie

    I thought downtown was getting a little bit better in terms of the “travelers” scene with their despicable behavior and their aggressive dogs. Well, it looks like they are back at Shattuck and Kittridge, 15 or more of them, lounging, sleeping, socializing, swearing, yelling, and goodness knows what else. I could hear them half a block away. I walked past them with my two dogs, and out of nowhere, three tied-together large dogs starting barking ferociously. The owner (?) of these dogs, who was sitting about 10 feet from the dogs, couldn’t be bothered to stand up and walk over to correct his dogs. Instead, he yelled obscenities AT his dogs in a feeble attempt to get them to quiet down. How incredibly lame. Then he went right back to his conversation with his pals. The dogs continued to bark the entire time that I waited at the cross-walk, crossed the street, ordered at Peet’s and left. That’s about 5 or so minutes or more. And this was OUTSIDE the library! There was another group of homeless or down-on-their-luck older folks outside Peets, sitting on the benches and talking about the idiots across the street. They were complaining about the barking dogs and unruly behavior.
    Quite a thing to see and experience. I’m really disappointed and saddened to see that those travelers consume so much of everyone’s attention, concerns, and anger, while they themselves parade around as though they own the city. They need help. They need a figurative kick in ass to send them on their way, I hope to sobriety and a better life.
    Yes on S. Hell yes on S.

  • franhaselsteiner

    In fact they were in violation of the lie ordinance, which prohibits more than two dogs, and you could have contacted BPD. In addition, they could have another violation (I don’t know for sure) if they were obstructing the bus stop (there’s a state or county ordinance regarding transit facilities, and I would think it covers bus stops).

  • Charles_Siegel

     “15 or more of them, lounging, sleeping, socializing, swearing, yelling, and goodness knows what else.”

    One person had more than two dogs.  If you reported him, you would still have 14 or more swearing and yelling.

  • Charles_Siegel

     “This law isn’t anything innovative or something that furthers human rights”

    I think this is a degraded idea of human rights.  the American left lost much of their influence after the 1960s because most people realized that it was defending self-destructive behavior in the name of human rights.  The left is beginning to have more influence again, because most of us have gotten over this idea.

    As I have said before, I do not plan to vote for this measure, because it hurts elderly people who are harmless and who could not get the bit of extra income they needed under this law, because they are too old to stand when they panhandle.

    But I think opponents of this measure are hurting their own case when they they say there is a “human right” to behave self-destructively by sitting on the sidewalk, yelling, cursing, and holding a sign saying “F*** You.  Pay me.” 

    This sort of behavior has nothing to do with the classical idea of freedom of speech. 

    If you do succeed in identifying this sort of behavior with “human rights,” then you will turn the majority of people against human rights.

  • franhaselsteiner

    The measure would not uphold the rights of people who are not doing anything wrong except for sitting–the elderly people you cite.

  • Another Guest

    According to his story there were 15 people there.
    If you reported the one person who had too many dogs, they’d just say that one of them belonged to one of the other people in the group.

  • Charles_Siegel

    That is exactly why I said that I am not voting for it. 

    When I talked about the degraded idea of human rights, I was thinking of statements like:
    “No, I don’t like being bullied by aggressive street people, but I am unwilling to violate their civil rights.”

    I seriously think that you are hurting your own case by talking about the “civil rights” of “aggressive street people” whom you don’t like being bullied by.   That is the sort of thing that led the left to lose the political debate against the right in the wake of the 1960s, and we need to get over it.

  • franhaselsteiner

    I have tried to explain in other posts that sitting ordinances run into due process issues when they are enforced. That’s why they rarely are enforced.

    Re Shattuck and Kittredge today, the police could have been called to supervise the situation.

    I haven’t seen the corner today, but were those people sitting on the benches? If the ordinance passes, those bad actors can still sit on that corner on the benches.

    On at least two previous occasions I have posted an excellent opinion by the San Francisco Homeless Coalition on the city’s sit ordinance. I will find it and post it again.

  • franhaselsteiner

     Here it is: http://www.cohsf.org/reports/2010/sitLie.pdf

    Also, here is a report on the implementation of sit/lie in San Francisco: http://wraphome.org/downloads/sitLieCHFReport.pdf

  • Charles_Siegel

    You are evading my point by raising side issues.

    My point is that you are promoting a degraded idea of civil rights and hurting your own case when you say things like:

    “No, I don’t like being bullied by aggressive street people, but I am unwilling to violate their civil rights.”

  • franhaselsteiner

     You’re welcome to think so, but all citizens are entitled to rights, and I’ve cited discussions written by people more intelligent than me on the topic.

  • franhaselsteiner

    My point is, as I have repeatedly stated, that there are city ordinances and state statutes governing  bad behavior, but Measure S, in its application, could well violate the bad actor’s rights. Again, see the Coalition’s opinion for a discussion. That document formed my thinking about Measure S.

  • Guest

    u mad, bro?

  • Scottyduck

    If you think this vote is about sitting…. Wait until you call a cop when you need one and they are transporting some “sitter”

    [This comment has been moderated.]

  • Scottyduck

    Chris maybe you should get out more, check out where all this “services” money really goes. See the big developers/landlords behind this measure and enjoy the shopping mall you are and soon will be living in. If you wanted to live in Walnut Creep, why not move there? Berkeley is a place where we (I?) protect civil liberties. Take that scapegoating, patriot act crap somewhere else.

  • Scottyduck

    What a joke, It’s too big for me so I’ll sweep it somewhere else. A meaningful impact would be to stop jailing the poor. Start jailing the corrupt.