Controversial Law Faces Renewal

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The Berkeley City Council is expected to decide tonight whether to renew an ordinance banning people from lying on sidewalks and limiting the number of dogs allowed to cohabitate on city blocks.

According to the original measure, which was passed in December 1998, no more than two immobile dogs can occupy a 10-foot area on parts of Telegraph Avenue and on several downtown streets. Police must warn violators before they can be charged with a misdemeanor or infraction.

City Manager James Keene, with the support of the Telegraph Area Association and the Downtown Business Association, is proposing that the city renew the ordinance so that it remains in effect indefinitely. The council was scheduled to review the ordinance's success after one year and decide whether or not to renew it.

Mayor Shirley Dean said the law was created to address problems of crowded streets and unwanted behavior that may deter shoppers.

"We would have packs of dogs and people literally living on the sidewalk," she said. "I don't want Telegraph Avenue to slip back to where it was a year ago."

Dean said that in addition to the ordinance, the city responded to numerous complaints about people lying on sidewalks by increasing police presence and making more drug-related arrests.

One homeless man said he thinks the law is discriminatory and encroaches on personal liberties .

"I've seen plenty of people who have money with three dogs sitting in the same place and the cops never do anything," said Oliver, a 22-year-old who did not give his last name. "The only people they're going to fuck with are the people who can't afford to defend themselves legally."

Oliver said he had previously been issued a citation for lying on the sidewalk.

"I wasn't even lying down," he said. "It's basically targeting homeless people."

Councilmember Polly Armstrong, who cosponsored the original ordinance, said it was part of a package designed to help homeless people who live on Telegraph Avenue and on downtown streets.

"The other side of helping people is having civic responsibility," she said. "It makes the statement that we have community standards here."

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he voted against the ordinance when it was first proposed and plans to vote against its renewal.

"It's a thinly disguised attack on homeless people because people don't want to look at them," he said.

Services such as the Community Health and Safety Team are adequate in addressing Telegraph's problems, Worthington said.

"Instead of getting police to arrest the homeless people, these social workers try to get them connected to other services for jobs, housing and mental health counseling," he said.

Worthington, who represents the Telegraph area, added he had never received complaints about homeless people before the ordinance went into effect.

Berkeley police Capt. Will Pittman said the department supports the ordinance.

Russell Bates, a member of Copwatch and a Telegraph Avenue vendor, said the city's homeless problems could be dealt with more humanely.

"Once again, business is taken as a priority over compassion or even human rights," he said. "I'd like to see no more than two cops allowed within 10 feet of each other."

Since the ordinance's passage, police officers have issued 12 citations for lying on the sidewalk and approximately 570 warnings, according to a report from the city manager. Two citations and approximately 100 warnings have been issued concerning the number of dogs lying together, according to the report.


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