Flash: Council Cleans Up Commons for Shoppers

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday November 27, 2007

Once known for tolerance toward the downtrodden, Berkeley turned a corner Tuesday night, advocates for the homeless and mentally ill say, when the City Council voted to give police greater power to cite people lying on city sidewalks. 


The business community, however, claimed victory in the eight-month fight to pass Mayor Tom Bates' Public Commons for Everyone Initiative, saying that people with inappropriate street behavior trample on the right of shoppers to enjoy the public commons and for merchants to earn their living. 


There was general agreement among homeless advocates, business representatives and the council around the initiatives' provision to further restrict areas where smoking is allowed. 


Most those filling the council chambers – largely advocates for the poor and people with psychiatric disorders – also agreed with the section of the initiative that promises future enhanced services to the mentally ill, based on raising new parking meter revenue. 


A number of advocates for the homeless, however, said the services – including increasing the number of public toilets and their hours and funding supportive housing units – should have been delivered long ago and without the punitive measures. 


It's like an abusive husband speaking to his wife, attorney Osha Neumann told the council: "I'll support you, but you have to accept this abuse." 


The vote on the initiative came in three parts: 


• A resolution that requires one warning (down from two) and no complaint to enforce a ban on sleeping in public places, with "enforcement to remain a low priority between 10 p.m. and 6 p.m." passed 5-3-1, with Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli, Betty Olds, Gordon Wozniak and Darryl Moore voting in favor, Councilmembers Dona Spring, Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson voting to oppose and Councilmember Linda Maio abstaining. 


• An ordinance that broadens prohibitions on lying on the sidewalk from a few commercial districts to all commercial districts was approved 6-2-1, with Bates, Moore, Maio, Capitelli, Olds and Wozniak voting in favor, Worthington and Spring opposed and Anderson abstaining. 


• A third vote approved greater restrictions on where people can smoke and passed, in concept, the idea that parking meter fees will be raised and that various services such as toilets and housing will be provided. The council will address the specifics of this ordinance later. This vote passed 8-0 with Anderson abstaining. 


Ed Roberts Campus 

In other business the council unanimously approved $2 million to fund the Ed Roberts Campus that included $1.5 million previously set aside for a sound wall between Aquatic Park and the freeway. The council promised to search for new funds for the sound wall. This approval along with other funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and BART means the $45 million project can move forward.