Public Comment

Disrupting Berkeley City Council Meetings

Margy Wilkinson
Saturday April 20, 2019 - 11:09:00 AM

Recent City Council meetings have seen strong reactions from folks there. I know that the council would prefer that everyone behaves nicely, patiently waits his or her turn at the mike and does not speak out of turn. But I think the Mayor and the Council by their own actions have made this almost impossible.

The point of public comment is that the people who pay taxes and vote get a chance to try to influence council members before the council votes. What has happened in Berkeley is that public comment has become a joke. It started during the Bates administration and unfortunately has reappeared with the new “progressive” council majority. Time after time when a vote is taken on an important issue, what has been said in public comment plays no role in how the majority of the council votes – most of the time there is not even an acknowledgement that anyone said anything. This leads to anger and cynicism – and when people’s very lives are at stake – as in the case of the vote on the RV policy -- the public has no way to express its concern, anger, outrage except to become loud.

In the matter of the RV policy if the Mayor and the City Manager had spent a few days or even several hours meeting with and talking to the RV dwellers and those of us who consider ourselves to be homeless advocates and had shown some tiny amount of comprehension of our concerns, much of the stormy rhetoric at Council might have been avoided.

In the meeting itself the Mayor turned a deaf ear to what the people in the chamber wanted. What in the world was he thinking when he repeatedly insisted that Item 21 had to go after other things on the agenda? It made no sense.

Unfortunately it becomes clear day by day that the leadership of this city has little interest in dealing humanely with homelessnees and is focused rather on just making those who are unsheltered go away.

Orderly conversations start with those who have the most power, not the other way around.