Controversy arises from possible city ordinance

Photo: Locals sitting on Telegraph Avenue would be affected by a possible ordinance, which would make sitting or lying on sidewalks during business hours illegal.
Jeffrey Joh/Staff
Locals sitting on Telegraph Avenue would be affected by a possible ordinance, which would make sitting or lying on sidewalks during business hours illegal.

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Though it is very preliminary, the possibility of a city-wide sit-lie ordinance - making it illegal to sit and lay on sidewalks during business hours - is currently stirring up controversy within the city, with some business owners claiming the idea would encourage more customers to visit their locations while homeless advocates and some city officials fear such an ordinance would target Berkeley's homeless population.

As businesses in Berkeley have seen a consistent drop in revenue over the past three years, according to Mark McLeod, chair of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce's Government Affairs Committee, some business owners on Telegraph Avenue and in Downtown Berkeley are becoming increasingly concerned that individuals sitting and laying on the streets could be contributing to their decline in business.

"There are concerns about a clean and welcoming Downtown that's inviting for all Berkeleyans and visitors," said John Caner, executive director of the Downtown Berkeley Association.

But according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, Telegraph and the Downtown have experienced the smallest percentage drops in sales anywhere in the city. He added that Berkeley already has an ordinance disallowing anyone from lying on the sidewalk on Telegraph from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. but that there is no rule prohibiting sitting on the streets.

A sit-lie ordinance would prohibit both sitting and lying on public sidewalks. The cities of San Francisco and Santa Cruz both currently enforce similar - and equally controversial - ordinances. San Francisco's was approved by a 53 percent majority of voters last November.

Worthington attributed the increased interest in a sit-lie ordinance for the city to the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce - which hosted a panel discussion on the issue April 4 - "trying to blame the recession on poor people and (the) homeless."

The chamber has yet to declare its position on the idea of a sit-lie ordinance.

There is no official proposal for an ordinance before the Berkeley City Council, and McLeod said there is no draft of an ordinance currently in the works.

"Berkeley is very likely to be as slow in unfolding as San Francisco's been," McLeod said.

Beverley Tornado, a member of Berkeley's homeless community who often sits in the Telegraph area, said she thinks that an ordinance would cause street-sitters to act out and have a negative effect on business.

"When no one has anywhere to go, they're going to go crazy and start doing bad things," she said, adding that some of the people who sit on the streets contribute to the economy in those areas.

Worthington said the current law that prohibits laying on the street is currently enforced only sporadically, and that the city should work to enforce the existing law, instead of creating a new ordinance. He suggested having a beat officer from the Berkeley Police Department walk down Telegraph, adding that an area that brings in close to $100 million in sales and has the highest crime rate should have its own officer.

According to Worthington, the Berkeley Police Department assigned an officer to the Telegraph area for six weeks last November and December as part of a pilot program in response to some business owners' complaints. Feedback for the program was positive, he said.


Contact Courtney Moulds at [email protected]

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