Sitting this one outCity Affairs: A proposed sit-lie ordinance would not fix the economy - it would instead merely distract from the real issues.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Category: Opinion > Editorials
Given the problems facing downtown Berkeley - the sagging economy, the many empty storefronts - it's easy to latch on to proposals and hope they turn out to be panaceas.
Enter the proposed sit-lie ordinance, which would make it illegal to rest on city sidewalks and is supported by some members of the Berkeley business community. Proponents argue that in these tough economic times, stores need to do everything they can to make themselves more appealing to customers - and one way to do so is to address the city's notorious homelessness issue.
However, we vehemently disagree that the passage of a sit-lie ordinance is the appropriate means by which to do this. The ordinance has two major flaws: First, it does nothing to actually lessen homelessness, and second, even if homelessness were no longer an issue, there is little indication that there would be a significant boost to the economy.
If the city is serious about wanting to end homelessness, it should invest in efforts that emphasize outreach - not in efforts that provide citations. The Public Commons for Everyone Initiative has been successful in building relationships, but by further criminalizing homelessness the city will make it more difficult for transients to move off the streets and back into society. Furthermore, passing a sit-lie ordinance doesn't magically create places for the homeless to go.
Even if the ordinance helped solve homelessness, it would do little to address the city's real economic problems. According to the city's Office of Economic Development, business on Telegraph Avenue and in The Downtown, where the homelessness is at its worst, experienced sales declines between March 2008 to March 2010 of 6.9 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively. Over the same period, sales on Fourth Street declined 21.5 percent. In addition, the ordinance most likely would not be implemented for years - by which time the economy should have improved.
We do not begrudge business owners their right to advocate for their livelihoods, and we do not deny that the economy needs action. But policy makers must recognize that in this case, advocates for a sit-lie ordinance are blaming the wrong factor for their problem and must instead focus their efforts on reforming problems such as the quota system and permit policies.
Homelessness is a reality that the city has to face, but this is not the way to do so. City officials should help all their constituents, not punish some of them.
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