Public Comment

Commentary: ‘Wait Until After Election Time...’

By Carol Denney
Friday November 17, 2006

“We need to wait until after election time to see if we can get any changes to the law, meanwhile, we will do what we can under existing conditions.”  

—Deborah Badhia, Downtown Berkeley Association, For the Berkeley Business District Network, Oct. 5, 2006 


Dear Chief Hambleton, Oct. 5, 2006 

The BBDN (Berkeley Business District Network) appreciates your taking time to meet with us yesterday. We remain very concerned about street behavior problems throughout the City. Telegraph and the downtown district continue to be heavily impacted by inappropriate behavior. There is a very large number of people with mental health problems who are shifting between our districts… 

In our meeting, it was helpful to review the content of 13.36.015, one of the current laws related to the enforcement of street behavior. As action items, we committed to the following: 

The districts will update and distribute our Crime Watch brochure. We will publicize the use of 981-9900 as the call in for all non-emergency reports such as sleepers…”* 


While the rest of the nation dealt a resounding blow to political business as usual, the citizens of Berkeley not only gave a resounding endorsement to the status quo, they are all tucked in for another winter of hounding the homeless. 

The same business interests that originated the anti-poor, anti-homeless legislation and street sweeps of the last two decades are poised to strike again with both the usual tactics; chasing people from one end of town to the other, arresting people under current laws, and familiar calls for new, more powerful legislative “tools” to help criminalize the poor and mentally ill. 

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates’ administration began with 240 shelter beds, and dedicates itself to “maintaining” those shelter beds. Translation? No more shelter beds in Berkeley. Despite an enormous low-cost housing deficit growing in tandem with the destruction of single room occupancy housing and its replacement with high-end condos, which often function as weekday bedrooms for people who work in the city but whose family digs are in Concord, Berkeley has no plans for the people it has huddled in doorways except to have a huddle of its own with the business interests, the police, and the city council, and produce some new, creative legislation to put them away for good. 

Long-time Berkeley residents recognize that crackdowns on Berkeley’s poor come with the holidays as sure as Salvation Army bell-ringers and plastic Santas. But the post-election holiday season, if Deborah Badhia’s letter is any indication, has the poor and homeless right in its cross-hairs. 


* Letter from Deborah Badhia of the Downtown Berkeley Association to the Berkeley Business District Network, Phil Kamlarz, City Manager of the City of Berkeley, and Berkeley Chief of Police Doug Hambleton. 


Carol Denney is a musician and activist.