Landlords or Panhandlers: Who Is Really to Blame?

But before Berkeley sends another potentially pointless anti-poor ordinance through the courts, it makes sense to institute a retail vacancy fee on landlords who keep storefront locations empty for years, refusing to acknowledge the recession’s effect on merchants, generally, and the effect of empty storefronts, specifically, on a struggling commercial area.

Commentary by Carol Denney

In 1997, Berkeley repealed its ordinance prohibiting sitting and panhandling after a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union. But the Downtown Berkeley Association, which initiated the ordinance, never stopped pining for some way to clear the streets of homeless people and panhandlers, whom they blame for a decline in retail sales. Currently, the Downtown Berkeley Association is lobbying for an anti-sitting law similar to San Francisco’s recently enacted sit-lie ordinance.

Berkeley has panhandlers, of course. But it also has hundreds of empty storefronts owned by landlords reluctant to rent at lower commercial rates, empty storefronts which burden a once-vibrant downtown. Commercial leases tend to be long, so locking into even three years at a lower rate is less appealing to many landlords than taking a tax write-off for the previous, higher rate.

Even a business like Amanda’s Feel Good Fresh Food, which won entrepreneur of the year and design awards, cited the inflexibility of the rental rate as the reason it closed in December after two-plus years in business.

There’s no political downside to stomping on the poor, and Mayor Tom Bates has the votes to criminalize sidewalk sitting.

But before Berkeley sends another potentially pointless anti-poor ordinance through the courts, it makes sense to institute a retail vacancy fee on landlords who keep storefront locations empty for years, refusing to acknowledge the recession’s effect on merchants, generally, and the effect of empty storefronts, specifically, on a struggling commercial area.

“Richie.”  A homeless man silently appeals for spare change.  Artwork by Tammy Grubbs

“Richie.” A homeless man silently appeals for spare change. Artwork by Tammy Grubbs

 

Merchants can’t sidestep the recession any more than they can avoid paying mandatory fees to a misguided business association. But they can avoid the hypocrisy of blaming panhandlers by addressing the real burden on our commercial areas and supporting a retail vacancy fee.

I’d much rather be annoyed by a panhandler now and then than continue losing businesses like the art house theater, the music store, and the ice cream parlor.

A Life Consecrated to Compassion and Justice

On the bleak streets of the Tenderloin, a sister took a stand against inhumanity. Her solidarity was inspired by the beatitudes and consecrated to the poor.

The Invisible Natural Cathedral of People’s Park

Builders, please go away. Allow the beauty of an Invisible Natural Cathedral to remain, a living shrine of open space that gives refuge to all people.

Street Spirit Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin

This atrocity was happening in a very wealthy city. It was happening right under our noses. It was very visible. And there was not the united voice of the faith community speaking out. That was the spark of Religious Witness. From that moment, I knew what I had to do.

Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin, Part Two

“What’s forming in my mind is Jesus in the temple when he became angry at the unjust and very exclusive systems of society. That is the very reason that there are the poor and the marginalized. It is not enough just to provide food, clothing and housing.”

‘Such Is the Magic and Spirit of People’s Park’

The mayor has no understanding of the awful defeat the loss of People’s Park would be. No comprehension of the cost in lives and the sacrifices people have made for the Park’s ideals. So many still find it a refuge in a country needing a political and spiritual overhaul.

I Remember Who I Am

“And Now Where?” Lithograph by Rockwell Kent

By and by, I calm down. I meditate. I pray. It is a beautiful day. The sun is setting. I weave my way toward the spot where I sleep, where nobody knows where to find me. I look to the stars, and say my prayers to the God who believes in Me.