As Rents Skyrocket, Berkeley Attacks A Familiar Scapegoat

The second vote on the anti-homeless laws came on December 1, 2015, exactly 60 years to the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery Bus. On the 60th anniversary of Rosa Park’s historic action, the City Council is rolling back those civil rights in Berkeley.
A sign at the City Hall occupation warns:: “First They Came for the Homeless.”

A sign at the City Hall occupation warns:: “First They Came for the Homeless.”

 

by Daniel McMullan

“A Laundryman is more valuable to the community then a Real Estate Man.”   — J. Stitt Wilson. Socialist Mayor of Berkeley, 1911-1913

When you say it out loud it sounds preposterous: “It’s the poor and homeless who are to blame. They are the ones that have all this power over the quality of your life.”

They are called the rich and powerful for a reason. They are powerful, and like it or not, they are the true architects of your community.

But there is only profit in that, when good things are pointed out. When bad things happen, people ask questions. With rents skyrocketing, some people are angry and fearful. Some are starting to look at decades-long maneuvering that has married local politics inextricably with real estate and developer interests.

With rent increases in Berkeley (depending on who you want to believe) of 12 percent to 31 percent, it has been hard for working families to stay in a city where they have lived for decades — some of us for generations.

Do your elected officials demand we take a look at this? Do they try to figure out where rent control is failing? Require more affordable housing from developers?

Well, according to Linda Maio, a member of the Berkeley City Council eyeing the mayor’s seat, it is the homeless who are to blame. This ever-powerful minority is the source of all our woes. Time and money is never ill-spent when we are enacting more regulations criminalizing them.

Maio’s anti-homeless measure is the same proposal that was backed away from a few months back after an uproar from the public. Such an uproar over homeless people might even help to distract the public.

After all, members of the City Council must do something to drown out an ever growing growl that is coming from a populace that is having its life blood squeezed out by greedy landlords and developers and the needy politicians in their pockets.

For as quiet as it’s being kept, while your public servants mouth “Affordable Housing” platitudes; in another room, they spout the high rents that can be commanded in Berkeley as proof of the great job they are doing for their masters. It is election time and it is time to deliver and to show the bosses that they are willing to do their bidding, even in the very face of the people that elected them.

For in a busy, distracted world, it is money that wins the day — unless. Unless the people, You and I, fight the money with our time. Doing the footwork it takes to talk to our neighbors and share with them what is really going on. Overcoming their money with our energy.

These same people — the landlords and developers and politicians in their pay — tried to put forward Measure S, an anti-homeless ballot measure, in 2012. I was astounded by the number of slick mailers that filled my mailbox with lies and half truths and the tons of money they commanded.

Being a homeless advocate, I knew the real story, but what chance does a person concentrating on other things have? They trust these people to speak the truth, but when it comes to the only subgroup in society where such hate speech and oppression is tolerated — the homeless and poor and disabled — the powers that be rarely tell the truth.

Every single one of these mailings inspired me to get out of the house, mailer in hand, to talk to my neighbors about who and what was really behind this, and what game they were really playing.

And now here we are, just three years later, after Berkeley voters rejected anti-homeless criminalization, and it is already time to trot out this grim anti-homeless strategy again, this one-trick pony. Whether or not it passes, it saps the energy we could be putting towards true progress.

They want us busy. They know we held a meeting on November 22 to discuss what is happening to housing in Berkeley, a meeting titled: “Berkeley’s Housing Crisis: What Can We Do About It.” Another, a Town Hall on the same subject, was called by Assemblyman Tony Thurman on November 12.

These are meetings that were called by some of the smarter heads in Berkeley, the kind of folks that make sense. And that does not bode well for politicians seen as Pro-WageSlavery, politicians who are slacking off on affordable and low-cost housing. But when someone is caught out and they are not very honest or not very bright, whatever the case may be, they sometimes do the knee-jerk thing and double down. Throwing good money after bad on anti-homeless measures. Only here, it is all bad. Bad, bad, bad. The voters have spoken on this issue.

We know it is obvious that these issues are related. High rents create homelessness. Wasting time and money drawing up statutes to make illegal what is already illegal is taking away resources and attention from the real issues — issues we care about deeply and will be heard.

The residents of the homeless occupation at old City Hall in Berkeley named their cluster of tents, “Liberty City.”

The residents of the homeless occupation at old City Hall in Berkeley named their cluster of tents, “Liberty City.”

 

 

They will not split us off. They will bring us together. And together we will find solutions and elect those that will put those solutions in place.

The Bay Area is a bad place to play people off as stupid. Recently, the Mayor of Santa Cruz has written a letter pointing out the failures of criminalizing the poor. Nationally, the Justice Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have made it clear that criminalizing the poor and homeless is wrong and will not be tolerated or funded.

Berkeley’s Linda Maio is out on an increasingly thinner and lonelier branch. One where money from rich, out-of-town speculators might just be too heavy to bear. How many times can you disrespect the voters on behalf of the big-money interests, and get away with it?

This issue came up before the City Council on November 17 and again on December 1. Even with very short notice, there were hundreds who spoke against the anti-homeless ordinance and a mere handful that spoke for it. The important thing for our elected officials in Berkeley to know is that these hundreds are not stuck behind their televisions or dependent upon mailers. We all got out of the house because the issue this time is bigger and more urgent. Our futures depend on us. The futures of our children depend on us. The cold steel of shackles have awakened some people.

Except for the heartening turnout of many, many people who spoke out against Maio’s ordinance, the Berkeley City Council meeting on November 17 was pathetic. An aging, cranky, overfed cadre of Progressipublicans were doing the bidding of their Masters, regardless of how many citizens ask for justice and humanity.

Then came the City Council meeting on December 1 and the second and last reading of the repressive anti-homeless laws. I did not think it was a coincidence that the meeting was on December 1, 2015, exactly 60 years to the day that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery Bus, thereby starting a sequence of events that brought about the Civil Rights Movement.

And now on the 60th anniversary of Rosa Park’s historic action, here we are at odds with a group of people that have steadily and incrementally been rolling back those civil rights in Berkeley for years now.

The council meeting on December 1 was one of the craziest I have seen in a while. And what it lacked in integrity on the side of elected officials, it made up for with the passion of a broad swath of Berkeley residents.

At the old City Hall, a protest camp has sprung up, asking for relief in what is nothing short of a statewide and nationwide housing state of emergency.

At the council meeting on December 1, before they began discussing the anti-homeless laws, they unfortunately brought up an issue about an apartment block of 18 units on Durant Street that was bought by a developer who had no intention of collecting a measly 18 fair-priced rents.

Though he had no demolition permit, he told the residents that demolition was imminent and they had to get out. Then he invited the Berkeley Fire Department to use the property for drills that included breaking down walls and all sorts of damage. Then he complained that HOMELESS SQUATTERS did the damage and it was so severe that he had to demolish 18 units and rebuild 56 with all the prior rent control out the window.

On any other night, this would have sailed by with a wink and a nod, but not this night. See, I was busy with junk issues and this important piece of information almost sailed by me. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing! Are you kidding?

And the council started out wanting to approve it, saying what a great deal that one low-cost apartment in 56 would be! A building that looks like an ice cube in a neighborhood that includes the Julia Morgan Berkeley City Club a block down, the Rockefeller’s International House on the street above, and the landmark Hotel Blue Sky across the street. But under the glare of the public, they soon withered and sent it back to the Zoning Adjustments Board where you can bet it will be well-attended.

I hate to use strong language, but these people are nothing less than criminals and corrupt functionaries. It really was disgraceful. We really cannot trust these folks. Things have to change before our entire community is lost to the group of officials on our City Council not just willing, but seemingly eager, to sell out Berkeley residents.

It is very obvious that they subscribe to the idea that money elects people, not voters. Yet, our success in defeating Measure S tells another story.

J. Stitt Wilson, Berkeley’s socialist mayor back in 1911, knew the value of a Laundryman and a Real Estate Man. He knew that one cleans things. The other can be quite the opposite.

Dan McMullan is a Commissioner on the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission and Director of the Disabled People Outside Project.

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