Public Comment

Berkeley's Asinine Sitting Ban Measure

By Michael T. Pachovas
Friday October 19, 2012 - 03:15:00 PM

Once again the mayor and a majority of our esteemed city’s councilmembers have adorned themselves with their tiny pointed dunce caps in order to enact a ballot measure that would, if passed by the voters, ban Berkeley citizens and visitors from sitting on the “public” sidewalks. Obviously, well-dressed, pleasant, well-to-do folks who might bother to stop and sit down on a sidewalk will likely not be harassed by our civic minded boys-in-blue. Should you look like you can’t afford $4 to sit in one of our many cafes however, it will cost you $50 and considerable discomfort to do the same. 

Have we so soon forgotten the fiasco that the earlier “Poor Laws”,[ then called] Measures (N & O) cost us all in terms of millions of tax-payer dollars spent on lawsuits, the diversion of thousands of wasted hours of law enforcement resources, and generally poor public relations our city suffered as a result? 

Fortunately for me, I’ll get an exemption for sitting on the sidewalk under the shade of a nice tree or building— I get to sit in my wheelchair and won’t be bothered. I will, however, continue to be inconvenienced by the growing number of café and restaurant owners who have annexed the the”public’ sidewalks with their sprawling tables and chairs. My visually impaired friends probably don’t think too highly of that situation either. At least the good folks sitting on the sidewalk will bother to move out of my path-of-travel when asked (most times I needn't bother to even ask—but those darned tables and chairs refuse to move even an inch!); and don’t even get me started on the thousands of illegal “sandwich”signs strewn all over the sidewalks of the city. 

I don’t think that our forefathers mentioned anywhere in our First Amendment to the Constitution that a person must stand in order to be protected by that provision of our Bill of Rights. 

Amendment I 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances

Now, a reasonable person might say, “Well, yes, but there are certain exceptions such as not being able to unreasonably impede the path of other people”, and so on... however, most people are mobile and can move out of the path of others. The right of an individual to benignly sit down when they are tired or just want to sit down where there is no seat available seems to violate the very principles that our framers of the constitution precisely fought a great war over—freedom of common people to not face persecution from the ruling class. 

We, as citizens should be ashamed that this measure is even on the ballot—we don’t vote on civil rights. It’s just that that simple. We have fought wars, and endured civil strife for centuries to prevent people from being able to simply vote on whether women, people of color, people from different religious backgrounds, and people with disabilities should enjoy the same rights and privileges. I have lived in Berkeley long enough to remember when it was routine to have certain businesses in our town refuse to allow wheelchair users eat in their restaurants, or shop in their stores, under the guise that their little sign saying “ We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” gave them some kind of immunity from practicing bigotry. 

This measure is cruel, and is aimed at those whom are least likely to protect their rights— the poor. Vote No! on this ugly ballot measure, and feel free to tell your city councilmember that you oppose this.