After an acrimonious battle last year over Measure S, which sought to prohibit sitting on commercial sidewalks, Berkeley’s City Council pointed the way on Tuesday night to a more consensual approach to homelessness.
Councilman Jesse Arreguín’s Compassionate Sidewalks plan calls for a working group on homelessness to “conduct a series of focused workshops and discussions on a wide range of issues related to homelessness and to develop an action plan with policy, program, and funding recommendations around ending homelessness.” (Arreguín wrote about his proposal in a Berkeleyside op-ed on Monday.)
His proposal was to convene the working group following the scheduled work session of the City Council on homelessness on April 2. At the City Council meeting this week, the council unanimously agreed that Arreguín would propose a more detailed process which would be brought to a vote at the April 2 council meeting, following the work session.
In both public comment and council discussion, Arreguín’s plan was seen as a positive step in tackling a complex issue for Berkeley.
“I’m confident that if we take a different approach, an approach where we concentrate on consensus building and avoid divisiveness, we can come up with a workable plan,” said Bob Offer-Westort, who was coordinator of the No on S campaign last year.
“I’m really looking forward to a process that really knocks down the walls of progressive versus conservative on the council and in our community,” said Sally Hyman Hindman, director of Youth Spirit Artworks.
Councilmember Linda Maio said it was important to recognize how much progress Berkeley had made in dealing with homelessness over the years.
“We were a small community who came together, to pull together as best we could. We get better all the time,” she said. “I don’t want to paint this picture as though we have failed. This is the next step. I really think it’s way overdue.”
Council members Kriss Worthington and Laurie Capitelli, who were on opposite sides of the Measure S debate last year, both said it was important to move on from past battles and work in a non-divisive manner.
“I don’t consider those who opposed Measure S demons and I don’t consider myself a demon,” Capitelli said.
Arreguín agreed that he would work with Mayor Tom Bates to craft a proposal for the April 2 council meeting. By that time, city staff could provide some indication of the costs of an extended working group process.
“I get the sense from the entire council that we’re committed to looking at this issue further,” Arreguín said.
Op-ed: After Measure S failure, it’s time to act on homelessness [01.24.13]
Measure S: will it help or hurt the homeless? [10.31.12]
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