Berkeley City Council passes sit-lie ordinance

June 12, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The city known for embracing its homeless may soon be a little less understanding. Berkeley will put a measure on the ballot that makes it illegal to sit or lie on streets and sidewalks.

On Tuesday there was a very heated debate at the Berkeley City Council meeting that went late into the night. One person said it was the most raucous meeting she's attended in 20 years.

Both sides at the meeting claimed to be advocates for the homeless. In fact, those in favor of the "sit-lie" ordinance say it would actually enable the city to do a better help them.

In just the past two weeks, a Downtown Berkeley encampment has grown from a group of about five homeless people to about 30 and store owner Alberto Malvestio says business at his gelato store has dropped 15 to 20 percent.

"The moms with kids come here and you can see they don't stop. People who usually come don't come," said Malvestio.

In a packed meeting, Berkeley council members were poised to put a measure on the November ballot that would enforce a sit-lie ordinance with citations. Opponents rallied for citizens to "stand up for the right to sit down" -- as one of their signs stated.

"I've lived in Berkeley for 41 years and worked with the homeless for 41 years and I haven't seen any of those laws work the way they're supposed to work. What they've become is more sort of harassment," said Boona Cheema, an opponent of the ordinance.

But the mayor and at least two council members say the ballot measure will give the city some leverage in directing the homeless to a host of city-funded programs that include chiropractic, dental, and street-to-home services.

"They invite the person into the city attorney's office and say, 'Let's make a deal. We agree with you, we will waive those citations, if you'll go into services,'" said Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio.

Some of the downtown ambassadors who are responsible for directing them to programs say many of these people realize it's beneficial after they get a California ID card and receive monthly SSI checks as well as other sources of income.

By the end of the night, the proposed ordinance passed with a 6-3 vote and it will now go on the November ballot. If voters approve it, the ordinance will take effect in July 2013.


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