City to consider ordinances restricting street behavior

Since Measure S failed in 2012, many say Berkeley's homeless population has only grown. Photo: Emilie Raguso
It is common for some homeless people to spread out their possessions on Shattuck Avenue and ask passersby for money. Both these activities might be curtailed if the city council adopts a new set of laws tonight. Photo: Emilie Raguso

By Francesca Paris

On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council is slated to vote on proposed laws that would make it illegal to solicit anyone at a parking meter, lie in or on top of a city-owned planter, spread out bedding on the sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., and urinate or defecate in a public place.

The proposed laws, depending on who is talking about them, will either address problematic street behavior downtown and make it a more pleasant place to visit, or further criminalize the homeless.

Read more about what’s coming up at tonight’s council meeting.


In March, council voted 6-3 to approve a proposal by Councilwoman Linda Maio to clarify laws related to street behavior often associated with the city’s homeless population. The four ordinances on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting are a result of that proposal.

“These ordinances are not about trying to solve homelessness,” Maio said. “They’re about basic, socially acceptable rules and behaviors.”

Maio said she will support the proposal with several amendments: for the first six months, at least one warning will be issued before a citation, citations will be dismissed if the person enters counseling and housing placement services, and the city will work to ensure bathroom facilities are available 24 hours per day.

Critics have compared Maio’s proposal to Measure S, an electoral attempt to prohibit sitting on commercial sidewalks, which narrowly failed in 2012. Councilman Max Anderson, who voted against Maio’s proposal in March, at that time called it “the illegitimate son of S.”

Read more about homelessness in Berkeley.

The public testimony before the vote to approve Maio’s proposal in March heavily featured detractors who said the new laws would lead to selective enforcement, make it harder for the homeless to access services and fail to address the root causes of homelessness.

Business representatives and members of the real estate community supported the proposition, arguing that certain types of street behavior exhibited by some members of the homeless community in downtown Berkeley was pushing out businesses and creating an unfriendly environment, particularly for families.

Maio’s proposal outlined 11 issues, most of which are addressed by the ordinances up for vote. She said some of the issues are already regulated by city laws but have not been effectively enforced.

“These ordinances make the rules clear so that they can’t be arbitrarily enforced,” said Maio.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California sent council a letter in early June opposing the proposed ordinances. It argued that Berkeley should focus on providing services for the homelessness rather than enacting unconstitutional laws that would move “undesirable” people out of downtown shopping areas.

“These ordinances are a step backwards,” reads the letter. “They are attempting to move a certain class of persons out of sight rather than provide additional services and support.”

The letter also stated that having private “ambassadors” — in reference to a program run by the Downtown Berkeley Association — who enforce these ordinances increases the risk of unconstitutional enforcement.

Councilman Jesse Arreguín originally supported Maio’s proposal, but withdrew his support and proposed an amendment to increase city services for the homeless, which failed to pass in March. At a special meeting last week he presented recommendations from the Berkeley Homeless Task Force, which he organized after the failure of Measure S. The task force asked council to pursue a “housing first” approach and prioritize services over criminalization.

Francesca Paris, a sophomore at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, is a Berkeleyside summer intern.

Related:
Berkeley open to proposals to end homelessness, but questions how to pay for them (06.24.15)
City considers new recommendations on homelessness (06.23.15)
Op-ed: Religious leaders support compassionate services, housing of homeless people (06.22.15)
Op-ed: Berkeley’s new donation boxes obfuscate underlying issues (05.12.15)
Prayers, songs and lie-in during faith group protest against proposed homeless laws (04.10.15)

Activists, homeless demand end to campaign of ‘brutality’(03.30.15)
Video: Downtown Berkeley worker assaults homeless man (03.26.15)
Op-ed: In Berkeley, how much tolerance is too much? (03.23.15)
Op-ed: Berkeley’s new homeless vote: A victory of style over substance (03.19.15)
Berkeley council votes to curb impacts of homelessness (03.18.15)
Berkeley to grapple again with homeless on sidewalks (03.16.15)
New talks on homelessness in Berkeley start Thursday (08.14.13)

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