Berkeley's civic leaders have a reputation for making profound declarations on national and global politics but when it comes to decisions regarding quality of life issues of people right here in Berkeley they seem to be incompetent or uncaring. Much can be said about the treatment of people who are poor and homeless or mentally ill but even in small matters one might wonder how decisions are made about what and for whose benefit. My experience is an example.
I live in a senior residence near Dwight and Telegraph and enjoy the shops and restaurants as well as the street life along the Avenue. I also appreciate the easy access to downtown Berkeley on the #1 and the #1R bus which I use almost daily to go to the library and the YMCA. AC Transit is a boon – buses run fast and frequently, but no matter how efficient the system is, riders must always expect to have a wait. That's why benches are placed at bus stops. That's why there was a bench at the bus stop on the corner in front of Peet's on Dwight and Telegraph. On July 10 that bench was removed. That was extremely disturbing.
I am not young (I'm the same age as Rita Moreno) and have some problems which make it difficult to walk or stand for a long time. Not being able to sit while waiting for the bus is painful for me. And certainly I am not the only senior or disabled person who needs that bench. I immediately emailed the city. This was their reply; “The City requested that the bus bench on Telegraph at Dwight be temporarily removed for several months in order to interrupt illicit behavior that was happening at that location. Berkeley Police and other City staff are monitoring the situation and will request that AC Transit reinstall the bench once it has been determined that doing so will not contribute to antisocial or illegal behavior in the area. We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope to restore the bench as soon as we can.” I find it hard to envision what kind of “illicit or antisocial behavior” can happen on an uncomfortable steel ribbed two seater perched on the edge of the sidewalk!
My pleas to City hall got nowhere. I was told by the city manager that the TBID had requested the removal. I couldn't' find any way to reach the TBID or Roland Peterson on line so I went to Craig Becker at the Med. He told me he wasn't aware that the TBID had said that but he admitted that they really didn't like benches very much because some people would just sit there “all day long”. It seems to me that benches are intended for sitting!
The process here is getting increasingly convoluted. I emailed the city manager and got this reply. “Benches are public amenities and the more the better except whe certain individuals privatize this public amenity. We removed the ones at haste and telegraph because an individual insisted on using them to display and sell books. Check with Roland Petersen on the TBID position. Sorry for the inconvenience and hopefully we'll bring it back soon.” This is unacceptable several reasons. At issue is the bus stop corner on Dwight, not Haste where the vendors are located and it obviously is not a place for a bench. I immediately let him know that. That was a week ago.
Furthermore, his referring me to Roland Peterson makes me wonder who calls the shots around here. Does the TBID, which represents business property owners tell the city what to do. Does Mr. Hynes ask Mr Peterson what amenities the public, that is the people who live here, shall have? And does all this mean we have to worry about the city removing more benches? “Sorry for the inconvenience” won't do it. Do we the people have to organize a demonstration to get results?