Opinion

Op-Ed: We can do better with civil sidewalks

My support for Measure S, the Berkeley Civil Sidewalks ordinance, was not an easy decision for me. I came to it after many hours of conversation with people from all parts of the community, and a careful reading of the ordinance to see what it actually does and doesn’t do.

I have come to the conclusion that Measure S is good for Berkeley. It helps all our residents, and balances rights and responsibilities in three important areas:

  1. Measure S is being done in the best Berkeley spirit of extending a compassionate helping hand to those in need on the street. We know this is a varied population – homeless people, many with mental health challenges, professional panhandlers, and some “travelers” – people for whom squatting on sidewalks and in parks has become a way of life. Measure S would offer a way out of living on the streets for those who want it. For those who do not, it would clearly state community expectations.
  2. Measure S respects and supports the unique and varied small businesses that are the life-blood of our local economy. Berkeley is not a chain-store town. Many of our downtown businesses are not run by giant conglomerates, but instead run by families and individuals who have sunk their hopes, dreams, and life savings into their businesses. They provide the goods and services we need. They pay taxes that help maintain the services we all use — including services to people on the street. They even tax themselves extra in the Downtown and Telegraph to steam clean the streets and sidewalks. These businesses need our support.
  3. Measure S respects all the just-plain people of Berkeley — the people who use the streets and sidewalks every day. Berkeley people are generous; they have progressive values and they want to live in a welcoming city. Some of those I’ve spoken with include:A woman who described herself as a “Concerned Soccer Mom” who told me she is voting for Measure S because she is reluctant to allow her young teenage children to go to Shattuck or Telegraph Aves alone because of the bands of young–and not so young–adults and dogs squatting on the streets. She regrets and resents being unable to let her children explore their community.An elderly, peace activist who told me that she is voting for Measure S because she doesn’t feel comfortable “running the gauntlet” in the downtown. Our elders deserve respect and safe streets.

    Students who say they “don’t go past Channing Way on Telegraph because it gets too funky.” 

    And a good friend who has travelled the world as a solo woman traveler who told me that she doesn’t shop or go to the movies downtown anymore because she “doesn’t like the hassle, and has other options.

Civil Sidewalks is working in other progressive cities. I talked with former mayors of Santa Cruz and Santa Monica — men and women with whom I’ve traded ideas and walked in Peace marches. They initiated ordinances similar to Measure S and believe that these ordinances have helped their cities, particularly when done in conjunction with outreach by an Ambassador program similar to ours in Downtown and Telegraph.

Measure S is important for merchants, residents, and homeless people — all of us — to maintain a vibrant, welcoming, and compassionate City, especially in these difficult times. The Berkeley City Council voted by a majority of 6 to 3 to put Civil Sidewalks on the ballot because they recognized the problem and wanted to try a balanced solution that has worked in other progressive cities. Berkeley taxpayers yearly fund more than $2,800,000 in services for those in need. I want to maintain our tax base and use our money wisely to help those in need. 

Please join me voting Yes on S to support a better Berkeley.

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Loni Hancock is State Senator, California State Senate District 9.