Public Comment

Updated: Tuesday's "No-Sit" Motion--
To the Berkeley City Council
Plus a Reply to Mayor Tom Bates' Response

By Beverly Slapin
Sunday June 10, 2012 - 11:03:00 AM

As you all know, these are terrible economic times for most of us. Some of us are a paycheck away from living on the streets, and many of us are not that fortunate.

As the actions of the federal government, along with state and city governments all over the country, tighten the noose around the necks of working and poor people, more and more of us are threatened with homelessness.

Homelessness is a tremendous problem, but the blame cannot and should not be laid at the feet of the poorest of the poor. The move to put an initiative on the November ballot to ban sitting on the sidewalks in commercial districts, such as downtown Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue, clearly targets homeless people. If you pass this motion on Tuesday evening, such an initiative on the November ballot stands a good chance of passing, and poor people will be thrown into the abyss of a citation-warrant-jail-street system that saps their strength and wrecks their health. 

This Tuesday evening, you all have an opportunity to say “no” to this mean-spirited move. Don’t blame homeless people for homelessness. It’s not right and it’s not fair. Please VOTE NO. Thank you. 


And a response to Mayor Bates' response...

Dear Mayor Bates-- 

Thank you for responding to my concerns. 

One of the things that makes Berkeley different from many other cities is the amazing diversity of its population: those who live here, those who work here, those who study here, those who visit here, and those passing through. In the more than 30 years that I have walked Telegraph Avenue and Downtown Berkeley, I have never once encountered what you call "difficult street behavior." I have only encountered a mixture of people--young, adult and elderly--who have few, if any, choices. And yes, some of them have mental and/or emotional disabilities. But as a "natural next step to address a complicated issue," as you call it, do you really want to criminalize the poor? Do you want to punish people who have more difficulties than you could imagine? Do you want to build a new jail? 

If the "Civil Sidewalks" measure is placed on the November 2012 ballot, this is what will happen: The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and the Landlords Association will mount an expensive media and mailing campaign, couched in the kind of doublespeak they do so well, to "allow the citizens of Berkeley to decide." And the impoverished citizens of Berkeley, who, of course, do not have access to the kind of funds necessary to run such a campaign, will suffer even more than the are suffering now. Is this really what you want? Which side are you on? 

As you and the City Council deliberate tomorrow, the very least you could do is change the name of the proposed ballot measure from "Civil Sidewalks" to "Criminalization of Poverty." At least, that would be honest.