Another Anti-Homeless Ballot Measure? Really?

Berkeley’s business improvement districts continue to obsessively pursue anti-homeless measures in an attempt to cleanse the downtown sidewalks of homeless people. Yet the last thing Berkeley’s small businesses need is another highly politicized and self-destructive campaign about how terrible it is to shop in Berkeley.

The steps in front of Berkeley City Hall were transformed with dozens of prayer flags and protest signs, while food was served to homeless people. Lydia Gans photo

by Carol Denney


The Berkeley City Council may not have the stomach to pass another anti-homeless law on their own, but they’re counting on another creatively named ballot measure to accomplish the task on the grounds of refusing to “enable” people to sit on the sidewalks, thus frittering away days better spent polishing the handle on the big front door.

They’re hoping the voting public won’t remember that the last anti-homeless ordinance, overturned by a successful citizen referendum signature campaign, was found to be largely unconstitutional.

Large property owners are apparently unembarrassed by the vast amounts of money and time the Berkeley legal department is forced to spend on their behalf trying to carefully tailor ordinances so as to effect only the unwanted humans in a particular area of town without inconveniencing anyone else.

Discriminatory enforcement is counted on to keep the unwanted (homeless) walking and the wanted (shoppers) at peace, shopping without the inconvenience of encountering any visible poverty.

If the new “Elevate the Homeless” law designed to criminalize behavior (sidewalk sitting) specific to homeless people, transients, travelers, and youth seems mean-spirited, it is. Tell your city council representative so.

But equally important, tell the directors of the local business improvement districts that the last thing Berkeley’s small businesses need is another nationwide campaign about how terrible it is to shop in Berkeley.

The last contentious anti-homeless ballot measure received national media attention, attention which could have been focused on the amazing places to visit and enjoy in Berkeley. Instead, potential travelers and visitors got the usual dose of stories about how the streets are filthy, full of stoners, etc.

It’s their job to promote business, after all. But the business improvement directors seem to love to reinvent the wheel. Their faith that another anti-homeless initiative will improve business is more than consistent; it is
apparently irresistible to council representatives who ought to know better.

Pick up the phone. We have better things to do as a community than perfect another negative campaign about our failings. And maybe, just maybe, we can work together on practical approaches to very real problems.




Break It to Them Gently

Berkeley Will Always Attract Free Spirits


by Carol Denney


The realization will hit any day now. It will be brutal for those who thought they could somehow create Rodeo Drive out of Telegraph Avenue, but the upside is that it will save years of police riots, court costs, and the bewildering schizophrenia of having the richest property owners in town kill off tourism by bad-mouthing Berkeley.

This is a college town.

If you really want to, you can arrest the guy from Sweden with the backpack sipping coffee and poring over a map trying to figure out how far Berkeley is from Santa Cruz. But there’ll be another one along in an hour or so.

No matter how brutal we make our streets, how unaffordable we make our hotels and restaurants, rich property owners in Berkeley and the University of California itself would be wise to consider that having the UC campus sitting like a cat in the sun in the middle of town is an attractive nuisance worth exploiting, rather than fighting.

And it does mean listening to youth.

It may be tough for the class that commands the country club to take, but it might save Berkeley a lot of money to take a few cues from the 30,000 or so young people who would love to shop, dance, join, learn, and participate in community events if they weren’t treated as such a threat by a town that can’t seem to grasp that not only are they here to stay, they have something to offer.

It isn’t just the students enrolled on campus, but the wider culture they create by just being here that will always attract travelers, hitch-hikers, poets, artists, dreamers, and people who aren’t sure who they are yet but want to check out any town roaring with creativity and life.

That’s us. That’s us at our best, and youth culture is a big part of it. The recent push-poll that flopped as an effort to support the proposed anti-sitting law revealed some valuable input from the students who took it, who wanted more dancing, more creative events, more art events available to them.

We can do that — this town really does know how. But the people doggedly wed to the criminalization of poverty need to make a little room at the table for creative ideas. We’re a college town, and with a more inclusive attitude we can thrive in every possible way. We might even learn a thing or two.


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