Opponents of Berkeley's Measure S Sit and Kiss on Obamas' Anniversary

By Sasha Lekach (BCN)
Tuesday October 02, 2012 - 07:44:00 PM
Re-creation of the president and first lady's first date eating ice cream on a Chicago sidewalk.
Mike O'Malley
Re-creation of the president and first lady's first date eating ice cream on a Chicago sidewalk.

On the eve of President Barack Obama's 20th wedding anniversary, opponents of a ballot measure that would prohibit sitting on sidewalks in commercial areas of Berkeley are holding a curb-sit and kiss-in tonight, according to organizers. 

Measure S will be on the November ballot and if passed will prohibit sitting on commercial sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. effective on July 1, 2013. 

Coinciding with the Obama's 20th anniversary Wednesday, tonight's protest at 6:30 p.m. in front of the Berkeley City Council meeting at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way will recreate the president and first lady's first date eating ice cream on a Chicago sidewalk. 

"The most powerful human being on the planet used to sit on the sidewalk," event organizer B. Soffer said. 

Tonight's protest will include demonstrators sharing ice cream, then taking a seat on the curb and smooching -- much like the Obamas did in front of Chicago's Hyde Park Baskin-Robbins location, which is no longer an ice cream shop. 

The site of the presidential couple's first kiss has since been memorialized with a plaque. 

"The whole idea is to make a statement," Soffer said of tonight's Berkeley protest. 

Opponents have also written an anniversary card signed by measure detractors to send to the Obamas that informs the president that the city of Berkeley is telling its residents "your first kiss would be illegal in Berkeley." 

Soffer said the measure appears to support the merchants and commercial real estate owners and hurts the homeless. 

Osha Neumann, a lawyer at the East Bay Community Law Center, is part of the "No on Measure S" campaign and believes the proposed ordinance will not solve homeless issues or economic problems. 

"Although the law is targeted quite clearly against people who are homeless, it's written very broadly," he said. 

Neumann is concerned that, if passed, the ordinance would excessively punish residents. 

"Sitting on the sidewalk in a way that does not obstruct anything is an innocuous kind of activity," he said. 

Neumann said there is a fear of groups of homeless people, and that this law would criminalize homelessness -- which he believes will be ineffective. 

Instead, the city needs to provide homeless people with more resources, Neumann said. 

"Giving them these tickets is only going to give them tickets," he said. 

The city council voted 6-3 to put the ordinance on the ballot earlier this summer, with councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguin and Max Anderson opposing the proposed sitting prohibition. 

City spokeswoman Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said the mayor's office first introduced the sidewalk restriction item before the council decided to put it on the ballot. 

Findings supporting the measure listed on election documents state that public spaces in commercial areas have become "increasingly inhospitable" with encampments blocking and littering sidewalks with waste and debris. 

This, in turn, measure proponents claim, affects the city's economic health with customers discouraged to walk past certain areas of downtown and business districts. 

The measure also asserts that public parks and other seating options, such as benches, are available throughout the city. 

Another finding lists that homeless services are available through the city as an alternative to sitting on the sidewalk. 

Under the ordinance, a warning would be issued before giving a citation, according to the measure's text. A first violation, which would be charged as an infraction, will run a $75 fine or community service. Subsequent violations would be charged as either an infraction or misdemeanor. 

Certain exemptions are written into the proposed ordinance, allowing those suffering a medical emergency, in a wheel chair or on a bench or bus stop or with permits to sit on the sidewalk.