Opinion

Sunday Streets every day in Berkeley?

On Sunday Oct. 14, people experienced public space in a new way in Berkeley by strolling, cycling, and skating along a car-free Shattuck Avenue from Haste to Rose. I really had no idea what to expect with the first Sunday Streets Berkeley, but the experience was energizing and wonderful. Based on the attendance numbers from other cities, I assumed about 10,000 people might show up. All my expectations were exceeded when over 40,000 people spent their day in downtown Berkeley. Some of these people were my friends who hadn’t walked in downtown Berkeley in many years.

Although our city has been slowly moving in the right direction to make the downtown’s physical landscape nicer, it seems to me we still have a long way to go. I believe the biggest problem we have on Telegraph and the downtown is the presence of so many homeless encampments on our sidewalks. Because of this ongoing problem, conditions in the downtown have prevented many of us from feeling comfortable about spending time there.

The issue of our homeless is a very complex and there are no simple fixes. However, Measure S, the Civil Sidewalks ordinance on the ballot this November, offers us the opportunity to try to improve our public spaces and bring more economic vibrancy to our business districts. Measure S would limit the ability in commercial areas to sit, encamp and sleep on sidewalks between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., the hours when businesses are usually open.

I think of Measure S as a modest regulation that could be beneficial for all. Frankly, I do not think we are helping anyone by allowing people to live on the streets. Measure S can help to guide those in need to the many supportive programs we provide. And, before Measure S goes into effect, eight months of outreach and education for those currently on our streets will precede enforcement.

In the cities of Santa Cruz, Santa Monica and Seattle, this type of program resulted in a significant positive change in behavior. For people still sitting on the sidewalks after the eight month transition period, trained Ambassadors will ask them to move off the sidewalk to a bench or a planter. In the rare instances when people refuse to move, police can be called for assistance.A first warning must be given, and only after the warning is ignored, may the police issue a citation. The intention of the measure is that if a person agrees to enter social services, the citation would be waived.

We deserve a city where everyone feels comfortable and welcome in our public spaces: merchants, shoppers, residents and visitors. But to do so, we need to have standards for behavior that can be enforced, otherwise we all become enablers. In a civil society, everybody is expected to follow certain basic rules of behavior. Measure S requires that people sit on benches or planters in public spaces, rather than sidewalks during business hours, making our commercial districts welcoming for all.

Please join me and State Senator Loni Hancock and vote Yes on Measure S to allow a vibrant, healthy city that can be enjoyed by everyone.

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Susan Wengraf is Berkeley's City Councilwoman for District 6.