Dear District 5 Neighbors,
Last week the City Council asked the City Manager to develop language for a November 2012 ballot measure that would regulate sitting and lying on sidewalks in commercial districts. The regulation is not intended to be an upfront enforcement mechanism (two warnings would be given before a citation would be written), but another engagement tool for our Downtown Hospitality Ambassadors, giving them opportunities to dialogue with street people and hopefully to establish relationships that may well lead them to services, support and housing.
Thank you to all who wrote to my office or weighed in through Open Town Hall regarding a sit/lie ordinance. I always appreciate hearing from constituents, especially on more complex and contentious issues like this one.
I supported the measure in large part because I see it as the logical extension of the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative approved by Council in 2007: a package of revenues and services put forward by Council that included assurances that a certain level of services would be available - including a place to sleep - for anyone who needed it. There was also the expectation that the community would have civil and accessible sidewalks.
Claims that a similar sit/lie ordinance in San Francisco has failed due to non-enforcement may be true. But similar ordinances in Santa Cruz, Santa Monica and Seattle have been successful in large part because of their non-sworn "hosts" or "ambassadors" that provide information, guidance and assistance for all visitors. In Seattle, just the reminder of the community's rules about decorum in public commercial districts has been enough to sway 90% of the folks from sitting on sidewalks, and many have been guided into services.
Berkeley does more than its fair share to provide services and opportunities to those in need. An oft quoted statistic: Berkeley citizens make up 7 % of the County's population, yet we embrace over 40% of the county's homeless population. The City spends $3 million a year on homeless services. Homeless individuals come here because we provide food, shelter, opportunities and few expectations.
I think that most people could agree that Berkeley's self image as a progressive and compassionate community runs headlong into policies regarding un-civil behavior in public spaces. What we cannot agree on, as evidenced by the high emotion at last Tuesday's Council meeting, is how to achieve the greatest common good for all Berkeley residents.
I feel deeply compassionate for the many individuals who spend their days and nights living on our streets. Homelessness is a very difficult way of life. It compromises the health and welfare of those that it affects directly and impacts the community around them.
I know that many individuals experience homelessness through circumstances beyond their control — loss of employment, mental or physical illness, substance abuse, divorce or other crises. Often, these people accept supportive services offered by the City of Berkeley and the County of Alameda to regain their health, stability and independence. However, I also recognize that there is a younger population of homeless that appears to choose this life and reject community help or intervention.
It is most commonly the homeless youth, sometimes aggressively panhandling and often congregating into encampments with their dogs and belongings that create the biggest impact in our commercial areas. Many business owners have complained that patrons avoid their restaurants and stores because they don't want to interact with these groups. They complain about the unwelcoming behavior, trash, urine and feces that they have to encounter every day. Many Berkeley citizens tell me that they would rather shop or dine anywhere than Downtown Berkeley or Telegraph Ave.
I believe that it is neither progressive nor compassionate to permissively allow fellow citizens to self destruct in our public commons. It is our moral responsibility to make every effort to help them and I believe we do that. However, it is not our additional obligation to license uncivil behavior in our public spaces.
Sitting on and obstructing the sidewalk is not the only issue here. I believe that as a community, it is time for us to come to some accepted common standards of behavior in the spaces we all share. It is not unreasonable to insist that all of us conform to some broadly-accepted minimum standards of behavior. I want the citizens of Berkeley to speak their minds on this issue in November.
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This past Sunday I was pleased to see the Chronicle article Bay Area sees dramatic drop in violent crime. According to the Chronicle's statistics, Berkeley's violent crime rate is down 9.57%, and property crime rate is down 14.7%.Though parallel to reductions in many Bay Area communities, I think it is safe to say our Police should be credited for the work they do in our community and for their collaboration with community members including providing information about crimes and crime prevention.
On that note, please read below about a series of initiatives design to provide information and reporting options to Berkeley citizens recently introduced by the Berkeley Police Department led by Chief Meehan.
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On Saturday, June 9, a beautiful spring day, I was pleased and honored to attend the ground breaking for the new baseball field at Derby and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. (See photo below of former BUSD Superintendent Jack McLaughlin, Mayor Bates and myself.) The configuration of this field and the rerouting of the adjacent road to accommodate it — "Curvy Derby" — exemplify the creative problem solving with which our community can face its challenges. It has been a long road for the field's neighborhood, and for the Berkeley High School baseball community who now bear deep sadness at the tragic loss of their coach and biggest advocate, Tim Moellering. As of Saturday, the field will be named Moellering Field. It is a fitting tribute.
Berkeley City Council, District 5
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