Yes on Measure S mailer is full of falsehoods

By Sonja Fitz

Sonja Fitz, is Development Director at Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency.

Recently a mailer went out across Berkeley that puts a false ‘kinder, gentler’ spin on Measure S than actually lies at the heart of this ordinance. The language on the mailer sounds good, naturally. “Yes on S: Helps People. Saves Jobs.” A grand claim that warrants some fact-checking.

“Helps People”. Moving homeless people away from storefronts does not help them. Measure S will have “ambassadors who will conduct outreach to connect people to social services.” Homeless people by and large know what services are available. The majority already access services. For youth, those services have not included a safe indoor space to be during the day since 2004 when the youth center closed. Saying “move along” does not help engage people in services. What would? More street outreach… services that lead to a job with a livable wage or housing that is affordable if you are very poor… a place to be during the day. Measure S does not provide these things.

“Saves Jobs”. The mailer claims that businesses’ problems “are compounded by people encamping on sidewalks”. Not true. There are empty storefronts not just on Shattuck and Telegraph, but on Solano, College, 4th Street, and in other communities. In Walnut Creek, where my husband works, a wealthier community with no visible homelessness, there are many empty storefronts. Reality check: the economy is still bad. Plus, studies show that online retailers and big box stores have the biggest impact on local business. Don’t scapegoat people sitting on the sidewalk. Personally, I am doing fine compared to people who are really poor, yet I am poorer than I used to be and don’t shop as much. I don’t blame the kid and his dog drawing with chalk who I might have to step around. I’m more worried about my stagnant income and the fact that healthcare, insurance, food, and housing costs keep going up.

The mailer says opponents “offer no new solutions”, which is incomprehensible to those working in human services. Homeless advocates have, for years, called for more street outreach workers, incentives to get people engaged (housing vouchers, backpacks, bus tickets), safe drop-in space  especially for youth (a need we recognize for housed youth, having created a beautiful facility downtown, the YMCA Teen Center), and public spaces where people can spend time. In Europe, public squares are part of public life, of livable cities — having places to congregate during the day. Yet in Berkeley, with sister cities around the world and a cosmopolitan self-image, public spaces are scant.

The mailer says that similar ordinances are working or being introduced in 60 cities. Actually, evidence shows they do not work. And to be overly simplistic for a moment, if those 60 cities jumped off a cliff, would Berkeley follow? The same kind of overreactions took shape as California Proposition 209, Nevada’s anti-immigration law, ‘domestic surveillance’, monitoring people’s library habits, and ending Affirmative Action at UC Berkeley. The City of Berkeley rightly spoke out against these measures, recognizing that legislation created out of frustration should not trample on civil rights.

The mailer said, “It is time to implement civil sidewalks for everyone”. However, uncivil, aggressive, or illegal behavior can already be cited. Sitting is not uncivil.

The mailer appeals to the good intentions of Berkeley voters by saying that “persons living on the street (and) our kids need our help”. Indeed. But Measure S is not help. It is an overreaction and unfair. It targets homeless people without providing new assistance. It is not the solution. And it is embarrassing for a compassionate, progressive city like Berkeley to believe its simplistic symbolism would actually address the problems of homeless people or fix businesses who are suffering in the bad economy.

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  • The Sharkey

    How do you feel about the No on S mailers being full of falsehoods?

    I wonder, would your budget at Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency be cut if Berkeley hosted fewer migrant homeless?

  • guest

    Common sense and caring sure indicate that allowing our young people to pretend that they have no obligation to community standards is sending a bad message and not helping them move ahead in life. Nudging them toward the many helpful services we provide sends a message that we don’t want to contribute to a pattern of non productive behavior.  We live in a crowded universe.  Measure S helps define some really basic societal ground rules. 
    I’m voting Yes on Measure S.

  • Berkeleyan

    What guest said.  Yes on S!

  • Devin

    I’m still undecided on Measure S and I have to say there are reasons to vote yes on S, but caring about others shouldn’t be on the list.  Do you view all homeless as “young people” and do you actually think the street kids (who can simply stand up as a cop walks by) are going to be the ones affected by this measure?  It would affect the mentally ill and people unable to stand or those who just don’t care about being ticketed over and over – these are the people who will not be reached by your message to contribute to productive society; they require the most help and would be pushed out of available services due to their now-criminalized behavior.  

    Laws should not be used for nudging people in the right direction, they are hard and fast, black and white, right and wrong.  This is a short-sighted, quick-fix law that is reminiscent of the Patriot Act or bringing in an invasive species to handle another invasive species.  Imho, laws should be written that can be defended in any context.  Lastly, Ms. Fitz’s occupation as Development Director at Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, lends her a bit more credence in the “caring” department than those comments I’ve read thus far.  At least I know she’s looking out for the poor and needy.

  • The Sharkey

    It would affect the mentally ill and people unable to stand or those who
    just don’t care about being ticketed over and over – these are the
    people who will not be reached by your message to contribute to
    productive society; they require the most help and would be pushed out
    of available services due to their now-criminalized behavior.

    Do you have any proof of this?
    I know of no City or State/Federal services that would bar anyone based on some infraction tickets. Usually being barred from those kinds of services requires a felony record, and sidewalk sitting wouldn’t be a felony.

    Sorry, but this isn’t like the P.A.T.R.I.O.T.A.C.T. at all. Erroneously suggesting that it is makes me think you’ve already made up your mind on this issue.

  • Devin

    agreed that I’m exaggerating the issue a bit comparing it to the patriot act, but I still stand by my undecided stance.  Just had to point out the flaw in that particular pro S argument.  I actually just read the latest opinionator piece (Friedman’s) and I think its been the best stab at an unbiased view – pointing out the false information from both sides, and although you may be correct that it requires a felony to be exempt from services, it doesn’t change the fact that this measure wouldn’t address the “unproductive youth” on the streets and the reporting done on other sit-ban ordinances have often come to the conclusion that the same few people are being ticketed with little benefit to local businesses.  

  • The Sharkey

    Friedman’s “analysis” isn’t even close to balanced or unbiased.
    40% of shopkeepers in the Haight district – which is the district that lobbied for sit/lie in SF – think that it has been succeeded in reducing the problem of street people in their area. Not perfect, but 40% is better than nothing.

  • Devin

    but did the business improve?  Haight’s got a solid selection of headshops, pizza joints and used-book stores, don’t think they upticked substantially, seated people or no but I admit I don’t have any statistics on this.  Also, (and this is really a whole other direction), I’m curious to hear your take on measure S as ‘nimby’ist.  As an opponent of NIMBYism, do you think saying no sitting in commercial districts is essentially saying go somewhere else, we don’t want to see you?

  • Bob Offer-Westort

    Nah, a bench warrant on an infraction will do it for the Housing Authority and most (but not all) non-profit housing providers. You’re right, though, that an infraction ticket alone won’t do. But most tickets will result in bench warrants, just as most infraction citations that homeless people in Berkeley currently receive do.

  • Bob Offer-Westort

    It may be that grumpiness about Friedman’s piece is the only thing that both sides of this debate can agree on.

  • Bob Offer-Westort

    (Incidentally, the flip side of that 40% is that 60% think it has failed.)

  • MichaelS

    Earlier this evening, while strolling on Telegraph and deciding where to eat with my wife and 1 year old son, I chose not cross over the street near the Mediterraneum because there were half a dozen people laying on the side walk. I didn’t want to deal with uncertainty of an interaction, especially as it was getting dark, and I have been solicited for money in the past by a similar gathering, with more than occasional intoxication. 

    Based on this single instance, I can say that local business was impeded by side walker squatters.  We did eventually eat across the street, but were left with the feeling that Rockridge or College would be more congenial places to spend our time or money. 

    That said, I don’t believe this proposition adequately address the problem of a displaced population, but shifting them to a different/less obvious position on the map will likely be of benefit to the business districts.


  • EBGuy

     Lying on a commercial sidewalk between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday is already illegal.  See:
    13.36.015 Creation of accessibility on commercial sidewalks–Related restrictions.

  • The Sharkey

    Correct, but “failing” in this case just means that things are the same, not worse.

    If the worst that can happen from the measure is that things will stay the way they are now, why not give it a try?

  • The Sharkey

    Good questions. I don’t have an answer to the first one – I don’t think business revenues were included as part of the survey. Plus things will probably have to be better for a while before the public starts coming back. Getting shoppers to come back to an area they’ve abandoned because of antisocial behavior (or any other reason) can take a while.

    I would agree that it was NIMBYism if there weren’t parks or benches in or right next to virtually every area that would be covered by Measure S. These folks wouldn’t actually have to go somewhere else, they would just have to sit on a bench.

  • The Sharkey

    You’ll have to excuse me, but I’m not going to take the word of the Campaign Coordinator at Stand Up for the Right to Sit Down, Civil Rights Organizer
    at Coalition on Homelessness, and general Occupy supporter on this one.


  • Bob Offer-Westort

    Oh, certainly: Don’t take my word for it! Verify it yourself. My understanding is that one retains information better that way. But a couple of points:

    1) You switched the nature of your argument: You made a claim based on who knows what. I corrected it. You seem to have then gotten confused and thought that we were arguing about who I am (I think we agree on who I am!) rather than the factual matter at hand. A better route would have been to ask me to cite a source or to have yourself present evidence that controverted my correction of your mistake.

    2) You discovered that my secret identity is my actual name! I use my name because I think that anonymity breeds a certain amount of nastiness, and that debates like this deserve the kind of honest dealing that comes from all of our owning up to who we actually are.
    3) Regarding the courts: You can’t just show up. You need to schedule a court date. That’s supposed to take 60 days, but usually takes a fair sight longer. That’s longer than the window for accepting housing from the Housing Authority. (You can verify that one, too, with a call to the courts!) In the case of a bench warrant for failure to pay a fine already assessed, showing up won’t do the trick.

  • Bob Offer-Westort

    (This would totally make sense if there weren’t other arguments against Measure S. As it happens, there are.)

  • The Sharkey

    Well, since you seem to work so closely with non-profit homeless groups, why don’t you get them to change their rules so that they don’t exclude people who have bench warrants for minor infractions?

    “Problem” solved.

  • The Sharkey

    And they, like the argument about sit/lie “failing” in SF, are equally lame.

  • Bob Offer-Westort

    No, they’re awesome. (This is so easy!)

  • The Sharkey

    Great counter-argument, Bob.

  • Bob Offer-Westort

    Likewise! Glad we had this chat.

  • The Sharkey

    Oh come on. You could at least try to defend the “MEASURE S WILL MAKE LEMONADE STANDS ILLEGAL!!!!” line from your flyers. I was looking forward to that.

  • Grouch.

     Or perhaps they were hens if they were laying on the sidewalk.

  • mom

     But didn’t the lady say we don’t actually have the helpful services to nudge them toward? She seems to know what she’s talking about.

  • Mik Lor

    What kind of baloney is she talking about? The reality is the “gatherings” of 5 to 10 “Travelers” as they call themselves, on Telegraph and Shattuck are a bunch of young, mostly white, 20 somethng males, frequently with dogs, who have no interest in taking services. They just want to “hang” and smoke pot and drink– oh and ask for money. I saw a bunch of these guys harassing to Cal girls walking down Telegraph. It was really discussting. 

    Isn’t it interesting that these “victims” of homelessness are mostly young, white and male. You go down to and White and you see lots of Hispanics, mostly Mexicans but what they’re doing is looking for work — not begging for money and smoking pot. 

    What kind of standards and values do we have in this town? Is it all about anyone begging for money is a “victim”of the system. I don’t buy it for one minute. Middle class people who never lived, worked or counseled kids like this live in a fairyland because they don’t understand what it means to work and take responsibility for your life.

  • Charles_Siegel

     I don’t see how you expect homeless people to improve their lives, if you don’t expect them to either:

    — Stand up when they are told that sitting is illegal, so they do not get a ticket.
    — Or do community service if they do get a ticket, so it does not become a bench warrant. 

    You seem to think you are helping them by having no standards and no expectations for them (except the expectation that they will ignore the law and get a ticket and then will ignore the ticket and turn it into a bench warrant).

    In reality, those young people sitting on the sidewalks with dogs are quite able to live up to the expectations that this law would set, and they would be better off if they did.

  • guest

    This reply just makes me want to stand up and cheer!
    #2 was very awesome.
    It’s time someone stood up to berkeleyside bullying.
    No offense, Sharkey, since unlike some others, I don’t actually hate you, but the feeding frenzy can get a bit ridiculous around here, including by other posters than yourself.

  • The Sharkey

    Bob’s identity is only an issue in this discussion because he is a San Francisco resident being paid by the No on S campaign.

  • Bob Offer-Westort

    No, that’s not true. My identity is an issue because you couldn’t respond to a factual argument, and went in for an ad hominem attack, instead. And, in fact, the ad hominem attack (which focuses, I might add, exclusively on things I’m proud of: boy could I give you some *real* dirt on me!) has nothing to do with my being a San Francisco resident: Neither my current and past employment status, nor my being a “general Occupy sympathizer” (whatever that means) relates to place of residence, and the claim that you were attempting to undermine would not be undermined by my living in Timbuktu or the Sea of Tranquility. Instead, you were attempting to suggest that because I had particular politics, I would be inclined to lie. You’re now attempting a different ad hominem attack, which focuses on my place of residence, as your previous ad hominem attack failed. This would be a stronger ad hominem attack if the Yes on S campaign hadn’t hired a San Franciscan to run their campaign, and weren’t paying him tens of thousands of dollars to do the job.

    But a better response overall would have been to address the real, factual issue, which was the start of the two-ad-hom-attack chain, a few messages ago.

    Take care!

  • The Sharkey

    In this case, the real, factual issue has become the fact that you are a paid shill for the No on S campaign and not a member of this community. Perhaps if you had disclosed that information yourself, it wouldn’t have become an issue.

    I don’t approve of people from San Francisco trying to tell people in Berkeley what to do no matter what issue we’re talking about. I’ve never condoned Yes on S hiring outsiders either.

  • Scottyduck

    I’m so tired of “The Sharkey” get a life and stop kicking the least able to kick you back.  

  • Realberkeley

    you lose again Shirkey!

  • RealBerkeley

    Sit down Chuck you sound silly.

  • RealBerkeley

    130 beds, 600+ homeless, even if you walked in threw yourself  at the well shod feet of Doctor Coady you would stilll be out on the sidewalk after 4 hours of her “program” hungry and looking for a place to be.

  • DrMengele


  • Gerbils

    Right onn Mik Lor, now you need a catchy symbol and a cadre of mentally disturbed followers on crank, and vee vill rule zee world. Heil!