Public Comment

New: Proposed Anti-Sitting Initiative Would Violate Rights of Berkeley Citizens

By Mary Ann Uribe
Monday June 11, 2012 - 09:04:00 PM

My name is Mary Ann Uribe and I live in Berkeley . It has come to my attention the Council will be taking a vote this Tuesday, June 12, 2012 on whether to put the Mayor’s proposed anti-sit ordinance (aka Civil Sidewalk Ballot Measure) on the ballot for November, 2012. The ordinance will prohibit people in Berkeley from sitting on the sidewalk in all commercial zones. I urge the Berkeley City Council to vote NO on this proposal.

As a former attorney of over 30 years I can tell you this type of ordinances have been found by the courts to be unconstitutional as unfairly targeting and trying to criminalize the homeless, young people, seniors, the disabled and people in general. Civil rights law suits are expensive so why invite this type of litigation? This a public sidewalk and a City cannot regulate a public sidewalk in a manner that interferes with the constitutional right of travel of the American people or one that affects the poor, seniors, and the disabled disproportionately. 

Berkeley residents do not want to see their police officers give tickets out to young people or their children who come to our City, the place where the Free Speech Movement started. They do not want to see our young being harassed because they happen to sit down, are selling crafts or are playing music on the sidewalk. I have traveled all over the world and one of the things that makes a city draw tourists and money are the cities who have young artisans selling their wares, playing some music or singing a song on the sidewalks. 

Seniors and the disabled get tired and sometimes just have to sit down. Many of our veterans in the City are disabled having served their country and come back to the United States injured. This ordinance will disproportionately affect them. The homeless have enough to deal with in life and should not be harassed by the police just because they happen to put a duffel bag, back packs, etc. on a sidewalk. 

This is a waste of police resources. Recently there was a murder at Grizzly Peak in the hills of Berkeley of one of our residents as a result of a prowler. Police Chief Meehan decided to put all the city’s officers on duty watching a group of peaceful protesters walk up Telegraph rather than respond to this call. Did that murder not teach us that we want our police officers to take care of serious crimes and protect the people of Berkeley rather than giving out needless citations for uncollectible fines designed solely to harass Berkeley residents and tourists? 

It is my understanding the Mayor has stated we will promote the business of our business owners with this ordinance. Yet a similar ordinance in San Francisco has not led to economic recovery but rather economic deterioration. The reason for this is two fold: (1) this kind of ordinance will not bring in money where there is no money to be had in this economic recession. People are tightening their belts and not spending money. (2) Berkeley residents will resent these business owners who support and have pushed for this ordinance and will retaliate by refusing to do business in their establishments. Instead they will take what money they have out of town to a friendlier and more hospitable atmosphere. 

Having worked in People’s Park I know this kind of ordinance discriminates against our youth, the poor, seniors, veterans and the disabled. The mayor is being disingenuous when he says it will not criminalize the poor as more than 2 citations can lead to misdemeanor charges being filed. MISDEMEANOR CHARGES FOR SITTING ON A SIDEWALK? How ridiculous is that? 

Finally, it will cost $26,000 to put this measure on the November ballot. Why are we wasting $26,000 of city revenue to put a proposed ordinance on the ballot that will invite litigation, waste police resources to enforce, criminalize the most needy and vulnerable in our community, drive shoppers and residents out of Berkeley and not achieve its stated purpose? 

I urge the City Council to VOTE NO on this measure and not allow it to be placed on the ballot for November, 2012.