One decision Berkeley voters will be making in the upcoming election is whether to make the simple act of sitting on the sidewalk illegal. Proponents of Measure S say it is needed, because people sitting on the sidewalk in Berkeley’s retail areas are discouraging people from patronizing local shops. They go so far as to suggest this is one of the main reasons why many local businesses cannot afford to hire new employees. I would argue that most of the troubles that both local merchants and the homeless experience have more to do with the current recession than anything else.
Supporters of the measure say that most people who would be targeted by the new ordinance are in need of help anyway, and that an attempt will be made to direct them to assistance programs before citations are issued. The proposed measure does include a provision to waive citations for those willing to take advantage of these programs. This almost seems reasonable until one thinks about the fact this means participation in a program would be compulsory, not voluntarily. I am uncomfortable with the implications here; thoughts of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World arise. It seems clear that the primary goal of this law is to rid retail areas of homeless people, and helping them is secondary.
Quite frankly, I find the the vast majority of street people I encounter to be polite, and well behaved. I couldn’t imagine Telegraph Avenue without at least a few of them. Many of them help to entertain passersby with songs or displays of artwork, in exchange for a little spare change. Historically this has been a time honored tradition in urban centers. The sidewalks are public space really; it’s the closest thing we have to the town square of old.it