A protester sits outside the City Council Chambers making plain her views about a mooted sit-lie ordinance. Photo: Tracey Taylor

A group of about 70 people marched to the City Council Chambers Tuesday evening, after meeting on Telegraph Avenue, to protest a possible sit-lie ordinance in the city.

Although the item was not on last night’s City Council agenda, the protest’s organizer, Michael Diehl, told the Daily Cal that the group wanted to let the council know what they thought before it came to before council members. Diehl distributed fliers and organized the protest, which was attended by several UC Berkeley student groups.

But city officials say there is no interest or movement to consider a sit-lie ordinance like the one passed in 2010 by San Francisco.

“There is nothing being proposed or circulated at this point in time,” said Julie Sinai, chief of staff for Mayor Tom Bates, said last week.

Why, then, are people marching on the streets? Why did KTVU Channel 2, the Daily Californian, and other news outlets report that a sit-lie ordinance is imminent and might be presented to council in June?

The answer seems to lie in a forum held April 4 by the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Commerce. An email sent out to chamber members titled “An Examination of the Proposed Sit-Lie Ordinance,” said “the proposed Sit-Lie Ordinance, which has yet to be written, will most likely ban sitting or lying on sidewalks of commercial districts within the city during regular business hours. It is likely to be at least partially modeled on a similar ordinance in San Francisco that went into effect in January, 2011.”

Yet John DeClercq, the co-CEO of the chamber, said his organization is not pushing City Hall to pass a bill. While there is great concern among merchants about aggressive panhandlers who put off shoppers, the Chamber is not promoting a law to ban their activities, he said.

Instead, the chamber is talking to city officials and service providers about getting more street people into programs that can help them find permanent housing and mental and medical services.

“The people who are still causing problems on the streets and sidewalks are not in any programs,” said DeClercq. But “there is no specific ordinance. Nothing has been drafted. There is no staff report.”

Berkeley did adopt a ban on sidewalk sitting in 1998, but it was later ruled illegal by the courts. In 2008, Berkeley repealed a 1946 anti-loitering law.

In 2009, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty ranked Berkeley at the “tenth” meanest city to homeless people.

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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  1. To the woman in the photograph: dogs aren’t allowed to just sit around unless they are attended by a human and on a leash.  Otherwise we call Animal Control.

  2. In addition, the East Bay Express article (which, unlike the Berkeley Daily Planet appears to be interested in actual journalism and not just hacktivism) was posted TODAY.

    No matter what the BDP feels the need to insinuate, idle chat among business owners about what to do about the problem with aggressive street people in business districts ≠ a proposed ordinance.

  3. I have read them, and they contain a lot of speculation, insinuations, and unsubstantiated claims. The Berkeley Daily Planet’s articles and petition in particular seem like just another excuse to take cheap shots at Mayor Tom Bates, and completely ignore the fact that this issue has not come before the City Council and that Bates has not endorsed/supported the idea.

  4. I gather that you haven’t read any of the articles or at least that you either haven’t understood them and / or do not try to represent them accurately.

  5. The Berkeley Daily Planet now has a petition on their site against this ordinance, which does not exist.

    They also attack several City Council members for supposedly supporting this ordinance, despite the fact that it does not exist and none of them have ever proposed one like it.

  6. The more I think about this, the stranger it seems.

    Why were so many people moved to protest an ordinance that had not been proposed, discussed, or even considered? Who organized them? Did they know they were protesting against a fictitious ordinance?

    Even more disturbing is the coverage of this issue in the Berkeley Daily Planet, which suggests that protesters are combating a proposed ordinance, then admits that no such ordinance has been proposed, but then goes on to suggest that the ordinance exists but is secret.


    I also thought it was both sad and amusing that a group of 60 protesters (photos show about 20 individuals) rallying against the nonexistent sit/lie ordinance is characterized as a “success” in the BDP yet a larger group showing up to protest in favor of the South/West Branch Library demo/rebuilding is played down as “modest sized” and only “Draw[ing] Dozens in Support.”

  7. Thanks for the information, Charles! I guess I just don’t visit Telegraph often enough to see it. I spend more time along the Shattuck strip, and the sidewalk sweeper makes an appearance once in a blue moon.

    I’ve noticed that these sweepers have both a dry and a wet mode, where the brushes are wet and seem to scrub the sidewalk better. They always seem to run it dry when they’re on Shattuck. Do they use the sweeper in “wet” mode on Telegraph?

  8. I often see the street-sweeping machine on Telegraph.

    The way to tell whether it is there is to look west on Channing Way when you are walking on Telegraph. They always park the truck and trailer that brings the machine illegally, blocking the bike lane on the south side of Channing a hundred feet or so west of Telegraph. A minor issue, but it does cause a hazard for bicyclists, who are forced out of the bike lane and into traffic.

  9. Thanks Tizzielish,

    I think the apt. we got my bro will be his last independent home. Everything about Santa Cruz is better for him, the social services work better, people are kinder over all, the ocean is inspiring, and yoga at the the beach beats yoga in Willard park. He participates in a super cool program called Gray Bears, and receives a bag of produce once a week for a very low annual membership. While this seems so minor, for his circumstances, this support makes a big improvement in his quality of life.

    Compared to living near People Parks and Telegraph, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk area is delightful. Much less aggression and stress. The homeless culture is more like Berkeley was 15 years ago.

    Santa Cruz using a “no sit or lie” ordinance, primarily in the beach flats and downtown. The cops are not arresting people, but the homeless do not OWN the sidewalk either. The ordinance operates more like a boundary for setting appropriate behavior in a shares environment. I listened to the kids from the suitcase clinic make their case at city council. I was not presuaded by their arguments.

    The overwhelming numbers of homeless youth controlling Telegraph does affect business. Over the last four years my bro lived on the corner of Hillegass and Dwight. We called People’s Park by a different name, we referred to the park using the most common expression yelled and screamed by the residents of the park day and night.
    That would be F… You park. I will avoid that area as much as possible now that I don’t have to go there and dodge the rats running across the street at night when I dropped off laundry or groceries.

    Compare the Santa Cruz downtown experience, plenty of homeless and street performers, but people actually shop for shoes, have a meal, take in a movie or just hang out with friends. The diversity of folks visiting downtown and the diversity of businesses create a very hospitable city center.

    Ask the friendly mayor and any council members about the pros and cons, from my limited first experience writing a letter to them I received an immediate friendly and helpful response. A real departure from Berkeley where after years of writing to council on serious matters I have received one response. And that response was stupid and mean.

    Shelter plus care is meant to house dual diagnosed homeless folks. The program is also meant to have some regular monitoring and support services. This program is how cities attempt to house the most service resistant mentally ill folks. It is also the fastest way to obtain a housing subsidy.

  10. Proponents of a Sit/Lie ordinance would say that the layer of visible filth that coats certain parts of town is caused in large part by the homeless. But it’s also clear that the City isn’t sending out cleaning crews nearly as often as they ought to be. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone actually cleaning the sidewalks on Telegraph or Shattuck. San Francisco’s sidewalks are just as dirty, but at least you sometimes see a worker with a sidewalk sweeping/cleaning machine walking up and down the street.

    But hey, at least Berkeley is cleaner than BART! 🙂

  11. I would like to read about specific instances of Berkeley police encouraging property owners to evict HUD voucher recipients. I can’t conceive of a circumstance where cops would do that. A housing voucher is a rental payment, it does not have anything to do with police. Perhaps there is some unjustified, bigoted, stigma that mistakenly thinks poor people using housing vouchers are more often criminals?

    How would a cop know a person pays their rent with a housing voucher if that person is renting from a private property owner? Cops don’t know things like that anymore than they know, sandy, how you pay for their housing.

    I bet you have observed Berkeley cops harassing people who doing criminal activity and you have wrongly projected that those people pay their rent with housing vouchers. You don’t know how people pay their rent.

  12. Congrats, Laura, on your brother’s voucher. He is required to live in the city that issues the voucher for his initial, required, one year lease, but then federal law allows HUD vouchers to be transferred anywhere. There are some limits. You usually can’t transfer your voucher to a housing authority that has a higher housing allowance. If your brother lives in City A and the rent limit for a one person household is $1,200, he can only transfer to housing authorities with the same rent limit for a one person household or lower. Here in the Bay Area, all the rent limits are high so folks with vouchers can usualy move when their initial one year lease is up AND they can find a place they want to live that will take the voucher.

    I would like to understand the difference between shelter care vouchers and housing vouchers formerly known as Section 8 vouchers: they may both be HUD programs but the funding is separate and the vouchers are distributed very differently. I have done just a bit of research and don’t understand the distinction.

  13. Berkeley needs to pass a no sit lie ordinance. After walking down Telegraph it is clear why so many business have left the area; it is down right filthy. Not many people want to patronize an area like this. A sit lie ordinance would help bring business back to the area. By not passing anything like this or even attempting to address the problem Berkleyans simply prove that they are stuck in 60s. I spoke to a few opposing fans from Oregon before the Cal Football game last year and they were disgusted by the condition of the area. It is clear that most do not want to go to Telegraph which hurts the few local business that are left.

  14. Shelter plus care vouchers are HUD vouchers. The idea is housing plus case management.

    Last fall residents from a block over came by ask me for help, they live in a shelter plus care property and were frustrated with the lack of enforcement allowing one tenant to make their lives miserable. That tenant was dealing drugs and bringing the associated violence to the property. They complained that the required social services were absent, and no one was checking in on the recipients. They had contacted police many times. I referred them to their council member Max Anderson.

    The process of revoking eligibility involves a BHA investigation and includes an appeal process. Only after BHA was audited by the feds a few years ago was the required revocation proceedings instituted. Before that, evictions did not happen.
    OK, so people don’t like the changes. However, both agencies, BPD and BHA , are in compliance with HUD rules and procedures. And if people think they are being harassed, they are free to appeal, due process is very well defined. Best to play by the rules and not lose your housing benefit.

    But every time eligibility is revoked, another deserving person has a chance for proper affordable housing.

    We finally got a housing voucher for my disabled brother, he was on numerous lists for the past five years. He became eligible in another bay area city just a month ago, YEAH!!! that housing authority is not issuing new vouchers, they are distributing vouchers made available after careful review eligibility requirements. E- verify is making income verification reliable.

    There is a big difference between a disabled person surviving on less than $10,000 annually, and a working, single mother with income just below $30,000.
    Both are eligible for section 8. But when they working person lies about income, E-verify is capturing the data and resolving the dispute reliably.

  15. Perhaps that the case with Shelter plus vouchers, but I’ve observed Berkeley police going of their way to harass people who use HUD housing vouchers, encouraging property owners to evict HUD voucher recipients. Being a PITA does nothing to speed up getting HUD vouchers, so it may be an entirely different animal.

  16. I need information, specifically about the distribution of shelter plus care vouchers.

    How many folks who arrive to Telegraph and Shattuck Ave from other states receive housing subsidies from BOSS and other CBOs?

    Are these people getting housing assistance years ahead of those on the list just as needy and vulnerable.
    Housing vouchers are used as part of a law enforcement strategy, if you can be a big pain in the ass, you are likely to receive assistance faster.

  17. If Berkeley is really the 10th meanest City to homeless people in the country, why are there so damn many of them here?