Opinion

Five lies about Measure S — from both sides of the debate

According to Goebbels, you could establish a lie as true by repeating the lie often, and loudly. This worked until the collapse of the Third Reich.

Berkeley is presently up to its eyeballs in an emotional debate over a proposed sitting ban in business districts — Measure “S.” To read the pros and cons on what has become a melodramatic spectacle, you would almost think you’re at the Biden-Ryan debate. Who was big-lying?

In order to lie, you have to deliberately misrepresent the truth. Whether the advocates of both pro and con positions on “S,” actually lie is between them and their consciences. We will just call their talking points lies and move on.

Lie one (against “S”): “S” will “criminalize” sitting on business district sidewalks. Criminalize is a buzz word, connoting that sitters will be branded criminals.

Societies make laws, and if you break them, are convicted, or plead guilty, you could be called a criminal, but in common usage a one-time offender is just a one-time offender.  Hence the phrase, career criminal, or habitual criminal to apply to the real perps.  HAC, a Berkeley agency, which helps homeless people, among others, receive disability benefits, has legitimate concerns that the sitting ban could deter its clients by rendering them ineligible for benefits (because they have crime convictions.)

If you repeatedly disregard warnings to cease sitting (if it becomes illegal), you will be criminalized only because you, in fact, will have a short history of accumulated crimes. You can avoid that by just standing up for your right to stand up.

Max Anderson, Berkeley City Councilman for District 3, has a novel take on “S,” which defies classification: “What will they outlaw next–breathing?”

Lie two (for “S”):  Berkeley sitters have so many services they need not sit on the sidewalks in business districts. The mayor repeatedly boasts of Berkeley’s generous outreach services to the needy. But most of that money is spent on administrative costs, and an over-crowded shelter system that the usual suspects eschew.

The city mental health outreach workers rarely, if ever, work the streets, as they did in the past, because their budget was severely slashed. Intervention in mental health crises on the streets now is from police and emergency medical personnel.

A whopper of a lie, and Lie three (against): selective enforcement; if you sit on the median across from the Cheese Board, you get a pass, but the kid off the road from Oregon, will be cited. The lie here is that the kid from Oregon will be cited at all.

I asked the kid from Oregon if he would defy a no sitting-ban. He said he’d stand up

Most  law-enforcement is selective, in that cops decide which offenses to ticket, which to ignore, based on police resources, and tactics.

Lie four (for): Sitting Bans have “worked” in sixty cities across the country. But these cities differ, especially by size, and history. Santa Cruz, which is often cited, began street-conduct regulation more than twenty years ago, but the ban was for aggressive panhandling. Santa Cruz had solved its street-problem, if it is indeed solved, long before no-sitting bans.

Numerous press accounts (NYT, MSNBC, SfGate) declare the outcome of the Haight’s sit-lie ban uncertain. Business was down at first, and only a handful of uncooperative people were being ticketed repeatedly, jamming the court dockets. Hardly a success.

An article by Rachel in the East Bay Express, a lengthy investigation, recently quoted many city’s officials touting successes in curbing offensive street behavior in their cities. Are they lying or just engaged in civic exaggeration? The lie is in saying, simplistically, that the ban has “worked.”

Lie five (against): “S” persecutes the homeless. Recently instituted cop street patrols on Telegraph Avenue has put officers on the street to establish “parameters,” they tell me, for street conduct. All the “persecuted” street kids need do, if “S” passes is stand up, and the many that I’ve interviewed will comply with a sitting ban.

We’ll just stand up, or lean they tell me. Who says the police, or host-ambassadors will persecute itinerant homeless kids? Liars?

Lie six (for): this is a bonus lie for readers who’ve slogged this far. From the mayor: Support “S” to protect mom and pop businesses from closing on Shattuck near BART. The mayor cites a closing, he says was caused by the street-scene there. Beware cause and effect arguments. The mom and pop store closures caused by street people is right up there with Reagan’s Welfare Queen. If this is not a lie, its Reaganistic tomfoolery.

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Ted Friedman is a contributing reporter for the Berkeley Daily Planet, and a guest-contributor to the op-ed page at the Daily Californian. He has written numerous articles on Berkeley's street people, and for Berkeley Reporter, his blog.