May 31, 2012
By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said he wants to put a measure on the November ballot to ban sitting on sidewalks in commercial areas, a move that would avoid a protracted fight in City Council chambers.
"It's not going to change the world, but (this kind of law) sends a message that we want to keep our streets and sidewalks presentable and if people come to Berkeley they are going to have a good experience," Bates said. "I think it will cause some concern among people here."
Bates said he was particularly motivated by the scene on Telegraph Avenue, which on some days can be a virtual gauntlet of transient youth sitting with their dogs and asking pedestrians for change.
"It's just not civil," Bates said. "I walk home every day and back and forth to the office and people have stopped me and said, 'Can't you do something about this?' I figured this is a controversial issue and something that should be decided by the voters."
Berkeley already has an ordinance, written by Bates and approved by the City Council, that prohibits lying on the sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., which was part of his Public Commons package of laws dealing with problematic street behavior.
"With the current law you go and ask them to get up and move and they just sit up, so this would close that little loophole," Bates said.
He said putting the measure on the ballot, if approved by the City Council, could cost the city around $30,000. He is bringing the question of whether to put the law on the ballot to the City Council on June 12.
Bates said his staff reviewed similar laws in places like San Francisco, Santa Monica, Santa Cruz and Seattle.
He said the fine for breaking the law would be about $50 and would be classified as an infraction, meaning if you are a repeat offender or don't pay the fine it becomes a misdemeanor or higher.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.