The “Ambassadors” in the Downtown Berkeley Association’s Block By Block program claimed on Sunday, August 19, 2012, that only fliers authored by the City of Berkeley were allowed on Constitution Square’s light poles.
I’m a local community activist and the editor of the Pepper Spray Times. I was putting up signs which stated “Restricted Area: Wealthy People Only- Have Your Badges Ready”, a satirical, official-looking notice protesting the crackdown on homeless and poor people.
“We’re just doing our job,” stated Ambassador program workers Jamie Bush and Craig Daniels as they repeated tried to pull down the fliers. I patiently replaced them as they came down, citing their clear legality under Berkeley Municipal Code.
Daniels got so heated when I replaced the posters he destroyed that he grabbed and pried my fingers off the light pole in his next attempt to “clean” the pole.
I told him that he had hurt my hand, but I continued to replace the fliers, citing the First Amendment, while a witness stood by taking photographs. Daniels shielded his face, turned his badge over so that his name would not be visible, and finally removed his badge altogether.
Daniels also threatened to bring back a “rulebook” and “appeal to a higher power” regarding the poster issue, which I politely encouraged him to do.
The Ambassador staff is hired by the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA), arguably the wealthiest business lobby in town. The DBA has plenty of funding from their mandatory Business Improvement District tax on downtown businesses to promote their events and their point of view. It even has a glassed-in kiosk which none of the rest of us has access to, despite its being situated on public land.
It is probably legal for the DBA to pay the Ambassadors to deprive the rest of the community of their right to post informational posters downtown (posting fliers being a perfectly legal thing to do). But it is also certainly bad form to take our rights away.
The Ambassador workers spoke to the BART police, and an officer accosted me (Badge #261). He implied that putting up posters was illegal, but acknowledged that he was not sure of the law and did not arrest me.
Ted Friedman and I waited out the response of the host-ambassadors to my pole postings, and discussed the old days, after establishing that we’d arrived in Berkeley within two years of each other, 1970-1972.
Friedman told me that downtown Berkeley wasn't what it used to be, not like the 1970's. We discussed bulletin boards as an alternative to pole posting, but I insisted that downtown Berkeley was essential in the case of something like a missing dog, or a downtown-related issue, such as the content-based poster policy.
My witness and I walked away for several minutes to meet up with a videographer, then returned to the Constitution Square area where the Ambassador program workers were busily removed my fliers while leaving up “No Smoking” signs on the same light poles. I had put up all of the signs, including the ones allowed to remain.
“I’m doing this to highlight the content-based flier removal policy currently being utilized by the Ambassador program workers,” I told anyone nearby looking quizzical. “If the government can put up posters, then so can we.”