New: The Crime Wave They Don't Mention

Carol Denney
Wednesday March 14, 2018 - 04:07:00 PM
Carol Denney

It's a crime wave. Businesses all over town violating the law, operating in broad daylight without the proper city permits. Tables, chairs, potted plants, sandwich signboards, rolling racks and sturdy tables full of merchandise on the public right of way, all without legal permits. 

Perhaps it doesn't sound all that serious. But consider that in the meantime, a majority of the Berkeley City Council is poised to criminalize people who have more than three square feet of belongings with them on the sidewalk on the grounds of an urgent need to clear the way for pedestrians while ignoring the more obvious sidewalk violations by businesses blocking hundreds of square feet of public walkways daily. The vote on the three square foot law, the kinder, gentler version of the two square foot law of the previous council, could come to the present iteration of the council in the next few weeks unless less discriminatory perspectives prevail. 

Berkeley's willingness to publicly demonstrate its tilted attitude toward those getting the brunt of a housing crisis it created in the first place hardly needs another pointed portrait, but the permit-free furniture splayed across the public sidewalk illustrates it well with a back story only those steeped in the mysteries of zoning and public works can unravel. 

It's pretty simple: prior to 2011, the Zoning Department issued use permits for sidewalk seating which gave private property owners entitlements for the public right of way, an authority it did not have. This means anybody who even thinks they have a permit is mistaken, although they operate in a nebulous grey zone until the Zoning Officer technically terminates the previous permit illegally issued by Land Use Planning and the applicant reapplies to the Public Works Department for the appropriate legal permit from the correct agency. None of this, by the way, applies to Ashby Avenue or San Pablo Avenue, which are state highways and "cannot be issued Sidewalk Seating permits" since Caltrans, the governing entity, will not issue them. 

This can't be news to the City of Berkeley, but doesn't seem to have percolated down to code enforcement officers or the police officers otherwise obsessed with permit-free sidewalk blocking by people the Berkeley City Council majority thinks have way too much stuff - for poor people. 

The urgency cited by the Mayor's office in promoting the three square foot legislation to free Berkeley sidewalks of the tyranny of homeless people's belongings does not seem to extend to the chairs, tables, potted plants, sandwich signboards and merchandise decorating business frontage, despite its larger role in sidewalk obstruction. Watch closely as the circle is squared for businesses wishing to capitalize on their proximity to public sidewalks, while people in the throes of poverty are ticketed and scorned for taking up public space.