Opinionator

Sunday Streets every day in Berkeley?

By Susan Wengraf

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

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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  • http://twitter.com/JNGross J Nicholas Gross

    Hear hear!

  • Sjohn Donaldson

    Sunday Streets was the most fantastic and fun time in Downtown Berkeley for me and my 7 year old son Liam. Having lived here virtually my whole life going to Downtown with my son, on bikes and seeing tons of families, kids old folks, young folks, dancing and fun I saw a Berkeley for everyone. I think Councilperson Wengraf’s comments are right on. And the passing of Measure S will only make the Downtown more welcoming. The downtown streets need to our “Berkeley Living Room”.

  • patsypol

    Measure S will help Berkeley be all that it can and should be.  The folks draped all over our sidewalks need to understand their behavior is unacceptable in a public thoroughfare.  If you love them, help them move ahead in life.  The kids who will be primarily affected by this measure are largely homeless by choice (see the Daily Cal column from earlier this week)  Their exercise in alienation should not be allowed to hamper jobs, business and community improvement.
    Councilmember Wengraf makes great sense.  Mayor Bates and Senator Hancock support Measure S.  Hundreds of small businesses support the measure as do service providers, respected clergy, community groups.  It is time to have civil sidewalks in Berkeley.
    Thanks Susan for stepping up to the truth.

  • Roland

    Well said, Susan!!  Sunday Streets was a lot of fun!  And Measure S, while not a cure-all, is a reasoned, rational, necessary first step toward reclaiming our public spaces in downtown and Telegraph for everyone.

  • Cagilb

    There’s some question about its effectiveness in the Haight.  Has it stopped sidewalk sitting there?

  • Otherfish

    would be useful to know the number and location of benches and planters in the problem areas.  I’m aware that Telegraph near the UC campus and Shattuk around the BART station are problem areas, but do not recall if there are any benches or planters.

  • abefu

    A report published
    by the UC Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic found that the
    city’s controversial ballot Measure S would fail to increase economic
    activity or access to services for homeless people. The report looks at five cities in California that previously
    implemented sit-lie ordinances, including Santa Barbara, Modesto and
    Palo Alto. http://www.dailycal.org/2012/10/28/law-school-report-critical-of-measure-s-arguments/

  • Helenewhitson

    “We deserve a city where everyone feels comfortable and welcome in our
    public spaces: merchants, shoppers, residents and visitors…”  ESPECIALLY residents (home owners, renters) and business people of Berkeley.  We’re the ones who PAY for the public spaces.  It’s nice to share our beautiful city with others, but ultimately, it’s OURS!  Berkeley needs visitors to respect and appreciate it for the unique, incredible, and hospitable city it is.  I’m sure the citizens of wherever these people come from wouldn’t like folks lounging all over their city streets.

  • Deaninnovative

    We all have been hearing/reading the pros and cons put forth about this measure. What is really striking to me, as one who supports it, as that opponents haven’t offered ANY alternatives.  Are they saying things are ok just as they are? That would strike me as incredulous. In not offering any sort of alternate plan the opponents of S simply seem to want to keep things as they are, and that is unacceptable.

    We all know that the city of Berkeley is a dumping ground for the dispossessed. The reality is people come here from other communities, and that Berkeley has had to shoulder the burden for years. It’s time to stop making Berkeley pay; that is to say the residents and small businesses of Berkeley. It’s time to stop making us locals step off the sidewalk to walk around crazies, drunks, druggies, roudies, who constitute a significant percentage of these street people.

    Instead of expecting us, the people who live and work and try to do business, to contend with problems created in other communities, let those communities start sharing some of the responsibilities. Let’s make Berkeley no more friendly to street people than our adjoining cities.