Updated: The Berkeley City Council Takes Out Against the Homeless Again Tomorrow Night

Becky O'Malley
Monday November 16, 2015 - 12:56:00 PM

UPDATE: Just call me Cassandra. Exactly as I predicted, the Berkeley City Council wept buckets of crocodile tears over the plight of the city's unhoused, both on the streets and off, and then voted to add a few more oppressive legal restrictions to those already on the books, just upping the total of unenforceable or at least unenforced laws. Promises were made, to be broken in due course, the same kinds of promises that have been made periodically in the twenty-five years I've been watching the same cast of characters act out their fear of the poor.

Folks, we still don't have anything like enough public toilets in this city, and that's why people who have to sleep outside defecate and urinate when they can't wait any longer. How hard is that concept to understand? Why do they continue to think that police (or even worse, poorly paid and badly trained pseudo-cop "ambassadors") can solve the problems which are everywhere in this unequal society, not just in Berkeley?

Well, it’s Groundhog Day again in Berkeley. One more time, Linda Maio, Laurie Capitelli and Tom Bates have enthusiastically launched yet another war on street people. I have in my garage a sign, ripped from a telephone pole circa 1992 or thereabouts, which proclaims that “Assemblyman Tom Bates supports Measures N & O”, two ballot measures which were a particularly noxious version of his perennial anti-homeless campaign. They passed with Bates’ support, but were eventually thrown out in federal court because they violated the First Amendment. 

Maio waffled on that one. Later she supported Measure S, defeated by the citizens of Berkeley at the polls in 2012. Now comes Maio again, channeling Eve, asking for yet another bite of the apple, the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. 

Will she ever learn that it’s evil to assault the weak? Rumor has it that she’d like to replace the lately somewhat-tarnished Capitelli as the right-wing’s candidate for Mayor, and perhaps this is part of the price of admission to the race. 

You can read in this issue a number of excellent pieces by some of the more literate and humane citizens of Berkeley explaining in detail everything that’s wrong with the latest proposal by the unholy trinity of Bates, Maio and Capitelli plus one more, naïve suburban-reared Lori Droste ( who managed to get herself elected by a few votes in District 8 in the last election, thanks to confusion about ranked choice voting.) 

Here’s the Cliff Notes synopsis for those not literate enough to read more comprehensive explanations: 

1) The same problems are everywhere, not just in Berkeley. See, for example, Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane’s thoughtful review of what’s been happening there. And also, activist Robert Norse’s claim that Lane doesn’t adequately address the situation. The pervasive disease of Berkeley exceptionalism causes some of us to believe that this city is a magnet for badly-behaving people, when the truth is that the situation here is no worse than in many, many other parts of this country, where the poor are getting poorer as the rich get richer. 

2) Just moving people around makes things worse, not better. As a District 8 resident, I went to a meeting that Droste had with residents who were, not surprisingly, concerned because homeless and/or transient people of various descriptions had moved into Willard Park (called, in the ‘60s, Ho Chi Minh Park, I’m told). Some of them have harassed students at Willard Middle School there. What didn’t come up in the time I was there was the key fact that there’s been a concerted campaign spearheaded by merchants to run these people off of Telegraph—and no one should be surprised that they ended up in the park. Ohlone Park now seems, similarly, to be home to people run out of Downtown Berkeley. Where are they supposed to go? 

3) Human beings have to exist somewhere. Unless and until Berkeley (and Santa Cruz and San Francisco and Portland and Boise and ……) can offer the floating population of the dispossessed viable alternatives, they’ll show up where they’re not wanted. The only way to move them on is to give them somewhere else to be. 

4) Promises don’t cut it. Even the Unholy Trinity Plus One knows that people on the streets, like all people everywhere, need somewhere to sleep, somewhere to urinate and defecate, and somewhere to exist in the daytime. Many of them could also use some mental health services. Berkeley still, after all these years, doesn’t even have anything like enough public toilets, let alone safe sleeping places for the unhoused or shelter from the weather. Even Santa Cruz, despite Robert Norse’s valid quibbles, does better than Berkeley. 

5) Until promises become reality, it’s unjust—and foolish—to criminalize those who have no place to go. Recent court decisions and Department of Justice policies penalize cities that don’t provide adequate alternatives for their homeless populations, particularly those which also hit them with quasi-criminal charges of the type now being proposed again for Berkeley. Maio’s proposal ignores these changes in federal policy. 

Also in my garage is another sign, one that proclaims that Measure S was “Supported by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner” and “Mayor Tom Bates”, as well as “most City Councilmembers”. Coupled with the invitation reproduced in this issue to a fundraiser for Skinner’s current campaign for State Senate, proudly hosted by some of the greediest members of the developer cabal, it becomes apparent that the latest manifestation of the relentless drive to criminalize the homeless is part and parcel of the drive to gentrify downtown Berkeley for private profit by displacing its neediest residents, and Skinner seems happy to be its spokesmodel. 

The plan to build 300+ expensive luxury apartments without a single affordable unit on the site of the Shattuck Hotel and Landmark Theaters at 2211 Harold Way is another version of the same scheme. On the council agenda tomorrow night is a consent item which would cram all five of the appeals to ZAB’s approval of that dreadful boondoggle into a one-night one-minute-soundbyte marathon, presided over by councilmembers who will not have read the hundreds of pages of testimony which citizens have submitted opposing the project. 

I predict that, following the Mayor’s example, on December 8 they will chat amongst themselves during the oral testimony and then vote like the robots they are to allow the theaters to be demolished and the building to go forward. Some will wring their hands and cry crocodile tears, but they’ll do it. 

And tomorrow night, with a bravura show of hypocritical sympathy, they’ll probably do the same thing regarding the homeless. 

They should all be ashamed of themselves. But then, I’ve been saying that for at least 25 years, haven’t I? Maybe it’s time for me to retire for the fourth time, and this time really mean it.