Amber, 24, who’s been living on the streets half her life, was sitting on a sunny sidewalk in downtown Berkeley last week, cuddling her three-month-old puppy and talking to a friend. But if voters approve a measure the city council placed on the November ballot, sitting on the sidewalk – after a warning – could cost her 75 dollars.
“That law will give us tickets we can’t pay, then we’ll have warrants and end up in jail,” said Amber, who “spranges” – asks for spare change – to feed herself and her unborn child.
Although the council chambers was packed with those opposing the law, the city council, at the end of a dramatic meeting that went past midnight on Jul. 11, approved putting the sit ban to a vote. The proposed ordinance is similar to statutes in Seattle, Washington, Anchorage, Alaska and Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Palo Alto, California. It would ban sitting on the sidewalk in commercial areas between seven a.m. and 10 p.m.
Some four dozen public speakers addressed the council, many arguing that the economic downturn is to blame for Berkeley’s vacant storefronts, and that punishing the homeless won’t bring back business.
John DeClercq, Berkeley Chamber of Commerce CEO, the sole speaker favoring the measure, said the law would make the city’s business districts “more welcoming”.
Once the public speakers queue wound down, the meeting took an unexpected turn when several activists stood up and led the public in the civil rights protest song, “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
The three council members opposing the sit ban joined the sing-along, as the five other council members present left the room. When they returned, in the midst of chaos, the majority voted to place the measure on the ballot.
The dissident council members contend the vote was taken without council debate and therefore illegal. “They ...