Press Release: BatesGate: Mayor’s Mistakes Censor Free Speech (UPDATED)

From the Office of Councilmember Kriss Worthington
Thursday July 12, 2012 - 01:20:00 PM

(Berkeley) – After sixty (60) residents testified and sang in opposition, Mayor Tom Bates forced a vote on the Anti-sitting ordinance without debate from council. The next day, there was a press conference where members of the public and City Council stated what they would have said if the Mayor had not stopped them from speaking. See list of Mayor’s mistakes below.


COALITION! Was this a transformative moment in history? Numerous residents attending in regards to other important items on the July 10 agenda experienced or observed mistakes or mistreatment on their issues at the same meeting. West Berkeley residents, small businesses and artists were present to advocate for changes to the West Berkeley Project. South and West Berkeley residents were in attendance to advocate for a fair share of the Watershed Bond to advocate for the discontinuation of flooding of their homes and businesses. Environmentalists were attempting to reduce the pollution of Aquatic Park and the Bay. Taxpayers were concerned about how many bonds and taxes, and how many millions they would have to pay. None of these issues received the amount of support they deserved. There was much conversation amongst the public in attendance, and seemingly increased recognition that since we are all being mistreated, perhaps we all could work together and possibly get better policy results. Some of the public speakers even made reference to patterns amongst the issues. 


DIVERSITY: The public comment reflected an astounding display of the diversity of Berkeley. There were Black, White, Asian, Latino, Native American, and mixed race speakers. There were senior citizens, reflecting the Gray Panthers opposition. There were high school, college, and graduate school speakers including ASUC Senators expressing the Cal student government’s 18-1 vote against a sit lie law. There were attorneys questioning the legality of the proposal and expression of the ACLU’s opposition. There were disabled residents concerned how this would hurt them. There were homeless residents giving gripping personal stories of their struggle to make ends meet in order to survive. There were experts who are homeless service providers who indicated that giving poor and homeless people an arrest record would be a barrier to care, and limit poor people’s chances to get services or jobs. There were gay, straight, lesbian and bi speakers, including a gay leader pointing out that a disproportionate number of homeless youth are from foster homes, escaping abusive or violent homes or disowned because of their sexual orientation. There were official City Commissioners from the four commissions that have voted to oppose a sit lie law (Community Health Commission, Housing Commission, Mental Health Commission and Peace and Justice Commission.) 



Mayor’s Mistakes  


    When protesters were singing, the Mayor should have asked one of the many police officers present to give a warning to stop singing or leave the room so the meeting could proceed. Most protestors would have sat and listened. A few may have gotten arrested as civil disobedience against criminalizing the homeless.
  2. POOR MEETING PLANNING: With multiple controversial agenda items the items could have been split into two meetings, therefore no one would have to wait until 11 pm to speak. A larger, spacious room is available one block away that could have easily held all the people at Berkeley City College.
  3. ALLEGED BROWN ACT VIOLATION: The Mayor and four Council members are alleged to have discussed in the back room how to get this voted on tonight.
  4. ALLEGED BROWN ACT VIOLATION: members of the public were denied a chance to speak before the motion was allegedly vote on.
  5. SUPRESSING FREE SPEECH OF COUNCIL MEMBERS: Three Members of the City Council pressed their buttons to speak but were not called upon to speak.
  6. COMPROMISE NOT CONSIDERED: No Council member was allowed to make a substitute motion, even though Jesse Arreguin had presented a well researched written proposal that was accepted at the same time as the Mayor’s new proposal.
  7. The Mayor introduced a revised version that Council members and the public were not allowed to see in advance.
  8. DISRESPECT TO COMMISSIONS: Four Commissions have voted to oppose a sit lie ordinance, including one which also specifically opposed this new version. They were not given respect and their proper seat at the table in the front of the room and were relegated to speaking from the crowd.
  9. DISRESPECT TO COUNCILMEMBERS: When Council member Max Anderson was verbally attacked by a Council member, the Mayor failed to step in and declare that a Council meeting is not the place for that. (Fortunately Max spoke up and defended himself.)
  10. FAILURE (TWICE) TO ALLOW PUBLIC COMMENT: The Mayor failed to ask if there were any additional speakers in line before rushing the vote. Also failed to ask for public comment on items not on the agenda.
* The Mayor mismanaged the meeting to the extent that there is question as to whether the vote is legitimate. 


“As a homeless mother with three small kids, our survival required us to sit on sidewalks to perform and ask for money. To make sitting illegal is unnecessary and undermines our civil liberties and rights to survival.”  

--- Janny Castillo, Former Homeless Single Mother 


“This ordinance will have devastating effects on day laborers. They depend on sitting in commercial districts to earn their livelihood and this measure would criminalize that behavior and lead to deportation.” 

--- Alejandra Alas, UC Berkeley Student 


"From its beginning in backroom deals to last night's travesty of a vote of questionable legality Mayor Bates and the proponents of this ban on sitting conspired to do everything possible to prevent public input and democratic discussion. They know the level of outrage their proposal is generating. Now, I think they've gone too far. I think they cooked their own goose.” 

--- Osha Neumann, Attorney and Civil Rights Activist 

“It is critical to hear the voices of the youth who have been showing up in large numbers at City Council meetings only to be told that there is no room in the council chambers. If the youth get to this podium they are often told to keep their comments short. This is clearly a violation of their freedom of speech” 


--- Boona Cheema, Building Opportunities for Self-Sustainability