The Berkeley City Council voted early Wednesday morning to postpone consideration of a new set of laws designed to curb problematic street behavior.
The vote came around 1 a.m. after council spent the bulk of its June 30 meeting discussing the city’s biennial budget, which needs to be adopted this month. No public comment on the street behavior proposal, which came up for discussion at about 12:45 a.m., took place.
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Advocates for the homeless have decried the new laws as designed to criminalize people who live on the streets, while supporters of the changes have said the city must take steps to curtail sidewalk behavior that is leading to a deteriorating situation, particularly downtown and on Telegraph Avenue. Those opposing the new laws rallied in front of Old City Hall at 6 p.m.
The four ordinances, according to Councilwoman Linda Maio’s office “address sleeping in landscaped planters, asking for money (panhandling) when a person is using a parking meter or kiosk, public urination and defecation, and the amount of personal belongings one can have on the sidewalk.” The item related to belongings would have limited their presence on the sidewalk from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Council had pledged to stay late to discuss the proposal. That changed after Maio passed out a revised version of the ordinances, and several council members said it was too late to effectively process and debate the revision. (Berkeleyside has requested an electronic version of that revision from Maio’s office. In the meantime, Maio’s office released a statement Tuesday about those revisions.)
According to the revision, warnings would be issued for the first six months, along with housing and assistance resource information, until the city’s proposed central housing placement center is active; and citations issued under the provisions would be dismissed if the person enters counseling and housing placement services. The city would also have to ensure that bathroom facilities in downtown and on Telegraph are available 24 hours per day.
Council members Max Anderson and Kriss Worthington spoke forcefully about the need to postpone the subject until a more reasonable hour, noting that many people who had initially showed up to the meeting had left due to the late hour.
“I have no intention of participating in this charade,” said Anderson, who went on to say Maio seemed to be “bamboozling” the public by “coming out at this late hour with a document nobody’s seen before.”
Added Worthington, “This is such a critical issue to people in our community. For us to be railroading this thing through in the dead of night, it’s a travesty.”
They questioned why such an important topic needed to be decided so quickly, and urged their fellow council members to delay the vote. Worthington also said that, if council rushed through a proposal that did not have public support, it was likely to face a referendum that would delay any changes even further.
Members of the crowd who had stayed to hear the proposal and provide public comment at one point shouted “shame” and “adjourn” for more than a minute as council considered whether or not to continue the meeting.
Ultimately Maio said it made sense to put the matter over to a later date. Council voted to refer her revised proposal to the city’s agenda committee for scheduling. The committee does not meet again until Aug. 27.
“Something has to change and this sort of got that ball rolling,” she said, of her proposal. “What’s happening in the downtown and on Telegraph is not sustainable.”
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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)
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