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Banning flyers denies free speech

- Jason Meggs
Saturday May 04, 2002

To the Editor: 

Free speech is under attack by corporate real estate interests in south Berkeley. 

The Business Improvement District (BID) of Telegraph Avenue has a zero tolerance policy on free speech. They tear down legally posted printed matter on a daily basis. They use highly toxic substances that endanger the public, pets, and especially the workers. The torn-down flyers are left in ugly piles on the street. Ironically, these legally posted flyers are not even recycled. 

Is the BID attempting to subvert the popular culture and vital history of Telegraph Avenue? The predominantly African American workers are given less than a living wage to implement this gentrification and political white washing program of removing postings, particularly political postings. 

Shirley Dean’s last mayoral campaign falsely claimed sales on Telegraph Avenue were down (they were up) to justify criminalizing homelessness and street culture. Now Telegraph culture is being attacked on a daily basis by her same conservative agenda, for which the workers suffer. 

One woman I see is unnecessarily and improperly using a highly toxic aerosol substance known as "Goof Off" graffiti remover on a daily basis to remove water-based postings (which would remove with water). She douses the flyers wearing just a dust mask, which cannot protect her from the Xylene and Toluene contained in the spray. The spray may cause cancer and birth defects, and is a neurotoxin. Wherever she works, a thick, caustic cloud forms, which persists throughout the operation. The excess runs across the pavement where children and pets walk, and runs into the drain to the Bay. 

Going by the BID office at Haste and Telegraph (to find a locked door), I found many empty cans of "Goof Off". These workers are being harmed and abused in order to survive. The BID is not returning my phone calls imploring them to stop these practices. 

Our city funds the BID, which is violating many of our policies and principles. This must stop. 

- Jason Meggs