Public Comment

Another Anti-homeless Ballot Measure? Really?

By Carol Denney
Tuesday June 21, 2011 - 03:50:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council may not have the stomach to pass another anti-homeless law on their own, but they’re counting on another creatively-named ballot measure to accomplish the task on the grounds of refusing to “enable” people to sit on the sidewalks, thus frittering away days better spent polishing the handle on the big front door. 

They’re hoping Berkeley’s voting public won’t remember that the last anti-homeless ordinance, overturned by a successful citizen referendum signature campaign, was found to be largely unconstitutional. 

Large property owners are apparently unembarrassed by the vast amounts of money and time Berkeley's legal department is forced to spend on their behalf trying to carefully tailor ordinances so as to affect only the unwanted humans in a particular area of town without inconveniencing anyone else. Discriminatory enforcement is counted on to keep the unwanted walking and the wanted at peace, shopping without the inconvenience of encountering any visible poverty. 

If the new “Elevate the Homeless” law designed to criminalize behavior (sidewalk sitting) specific to homeless people, transients, travelers, and youth seems mean-spirited, it is. Tell your city council representative so. 

But equally important, tell the directors of the local business improvement districts that the last thing Berkeley’s small businesses need is another nation-wide campaign about how terrible it is to shop in Berkeley.  

The last contentious anti-homeless ballot measure received national media attention, attention which could have been focused on the amazing places to visit and enjoy in Berkeley. Instead, potential travelers and visitors got the usual dose of stories about how the streets are filthy, full of stoners, etc. 

It’s their job to promote business, after all. But the business improvement directors seem to love to reinvent the wheel. Their faith that another anti-homeless initiative will improve business is more than consistent; it is apparently irresistible to council representatives who ought to know better. 

Pick up the phone. We have better things to do as a community than perfect another negative campaign about our failings. And maybe, just maybe, we can work together on practical approaches to very real problems.