Updated: Are the Berkeley raids going to stop?

Becky O'Malley
Friday December 16, 2016 - 10:13:00 AM

Wednesday morning UPDATE: Another pre-dawn raid on the homeless by the City of Berkeley. See

Flash: Merry Christmas from the City of Berkeley to the Homeless

UPDATE on Tuesday night, Dec. 20: Well, I guess we’ve got the answer. The raids will not stop. In fact, there might be one in the morning.

Contrary to the express wishes of what looked to me like a majority of the Berkeley citizens who worked to get the new councilmembers elected, most of whom also supported incumbent Kriss Worthington for his current council seat, it looks like city employees are yet again planning to evict the homeless people who have settled on the median strip where Adeline and Shattuck come together.

Reports the Planet has received from multiple reliable sources tell us that the inhabitants of the tent village received a “notice to vacate” last evening. If past practice is any indication, that means that many thousands of dollars of police overtime will be devoted sometime soon under cover of darkness to snatching tents, sleeping bags and blankets and turning these hapless souls out into the cold one more time. And a Merry Christmas to all—god bless you every one!

The City Council had the opportunity at their first meeting on December 13 to instruct the city manager to stop doing this, and they did not do so. Rumor, widespread, is that Councilmember Worthington indicated before the meeting that he was not willing, for reasons incomprehensible to me, to supply the fifth vote for what was supposed to be a progressive majority, and three of the other four were loath to proceed since they might lose.

Previous raids have taken place before dawn. Tomorrow is the winter solstice, so dawn’s a bit later than usual, at 6:52 a.m., just in case you’d like to show up in solidarity with the settler community. But be careful not to mouth off to the city officials—they’ve got the power in Berkeley these days, and also the guns.

Tom Lochner of the East Bay Times had the story here: 



“Are the raids going to stop? That’s a simple yes or no answer!”

That’s the question one of the after-Council speakers posed on Tuesday night (or technically Wednesday morning) after a somewhat, no, very chaotic discussion of what needs to be done for Berkeley’s large and increasing population of homeless residents.

I watched all 5 hours and 33 minutes of the proceedings in the comfort of my home, and then checked out the video afterwards. I once passed the California Bar, and I’ve been a reporter off and on for fifty years, but I couldn’t figure out what the Berkeley City Council thought they were doing about the periodic raids City staff has been conducting on homeless encampments.

And yes, I called several of them afterwards to ask what happened. The only one who called back gave me a less-than-adequate explanation. 



Let’s get the good news out of the way first. New Mayor Arreguin proposed a lengthy detailed list of actions on the agenda which he thought were appropriate to deal with what all councilmembers acknowledged was a crisis: close to 1000 human beings living outside in Berkeley in increasingly inclement winter weather. 


Veteran Councilmember Worthington submitted a similar proposal, handwritten in writing little better than my own, which is a severe indictment. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why Worthington thought his was needed, but the council wasted easily an hour chewing it over. 

So, what’s that good news again? Having failed to resolve the discussion of the two competing yet indistinguishable schemes, the council passed the ball to City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley, who proffered the concept of an “Emergency Operations Center”, making her what new Councilmember Ben Bartlett described as a “czar”. A muttered aside from the Mayor seemed to indicate that she’d raised the idea with him prior to the meeting, but on Tuesday night the councilmembers leapt on it like dogs on bones. 

Evidently Czarina Williams-Ridley is supposed to figure out how to offer at least a percentage of the city’s homeless population, perhaps 160 individuals, the chance to get in out of the rain, with the usual hodgepodge of contemporarily acceptable services such as overnight shelter beds, warming centers (places to come in out of the rain), social services etc. etc. This is a big deal legally, because recent court cases point to the conclusion that you can’t arrest people for sleeping on the street unless you can offer an alternative. Check, alternative proffered. 

No one on the council objected to any of this, nor should they. Where will the money come from? It’s up to the city manager, evidently. 

But this still leaves the question posed up top, which was enunciated by someone I didn’t recognize, a striking-looking, small, very dark-skinned and notably determined woman who said she worked with the homeless but didn’t give her name on camera. 

Are the raids going to stop? 

Councilmember Cheryl Davila made a valiant attempt several times to get her fellow members to answer that question on the record, but didn’t get a binding response. Arreguin’s original proposal had included language on the topic, but for some reason it was deleted from his draft at the last minute before the meeting started. 

The two lawyers who have joined the council did a pretty fair job of nailing the legal problems with the raids which have happened so far. Sophie Hahn first introduced the term “selective enforcement”, calling attention to the fact that the only encampment raided in recent weeks was the one with mouthy spokespeople, including Mike Zint, under the banner of First They Came for the Homeless, and Mike Lee, the “Old Bum for Mayor”. Even though people are sleeping rough all over town, singly and in groups, with or without tents, it’s only this loosely affiliated group, which has articulated its intent to call attention to the plight of all their fellows, which has been repeatedly busted. 

That’s a First Amendment problem, as anyone who’s passed the California Bar should know, and I’m sure at least Hahn, Bartlett and the city attorney do understand that. You can’t single out the ones who say things you don’t like and remove them, sorry. 

Councilmember Ben Bartlett did an even better job of—you’d have to call it—cross-examining city staff to establish their intent in choosing these encampments to raid. He prompted the apparent-city-employee-in-charge, a fellow addressed only as “Paul”, to naively admit that the encampment on the city hall lawn had been evicted because someone—not necessarily a member of their group—had chalked suicidal rantings on the sidewalk and Berkeley High mental health people found them worrisome, dangerous to their students. 

Surely Bartlett remembered that under the First Amendment it’s legal for government to regulate the time, place and manner of speech, but not the content. As long as anyone is allowed to write anything on the sidewalk next to City Hall, the government can’t object to what they say. 

And of course: Collective punishment of the campers because one person, not even proven to be among their number, wrote something bad on the sidewalk? 

(City Attorney Zach Cowan said nothing during this discussion, and in fact said almost nothing throughout the whole agenda item. He must know better, but didn’t speak up to advise the council on how to draft their opinions. Wonder why?) 

Bartlett also got into the record that there’s some number of additional campsites, from two to dozens, throughout the city, and yet only this one was busted. More proof, if it should be needed, of selective enforcement. 

But to the disgust of the many activists who showed up for the meeting the council never specifically passed language forbidding the City Manager and her staff to continue raiding the campgrounds. 

Here’s what longtime activist and attorney Osha Neumann said: 

“I came to this meeting with enormous hope and feeling great relief that the kind of knot in my stomach that I used to have when I came to the old meetings wasn't there this time. And unfortunately [my hope]has now widely dissipated and has been replaced by a real sadness about what is happening here with this issue of the emergency around homelessness. I hear the word "emergency" but what has come out of the council is not a response to our emergency. And it leaves in place what is really a terrible blight on this town, which is the way in which the encampment, First They Came for the Homeless, has been repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly raided in all kinds of weather. 

“ For what reason? For no purpose. 

“And as they have been raided, they refused to disband into their little hovels or off into the little behind- alleys. They have kept together to demonstrate the need for this, and they have come to another place and they have been raided again and they have held together. And they have been raided again. Over and over and over again. 

“ And it was the kind of representation of sort of a non‑violent community resistance that really reminded me of Standing Rock, reminded me of people willing to stand together against a force that is implacably against them and not to yield. And I thought finally I was coming to this meeting and that would be over with. Finally I would have a city council that would say to the city that is not who we are. That is not what we are going to do. Right now that is going to stop. Right now we are going to say as a city council that we direct the city manager and the chief of police to designate a place where people can be, and in fact the place that is designated should be, right now, the place where they are. 

“But instead of that what happened? 

“The last‑minute: There's a new revised agenda and the most crucial part of this is taken out. So they are still vulnerable. There is nothing this council has done that will prevent tonight again a raid on that encampment. Those sick people, those defenseless people, there is nothing that is going to prevent that. You could have done that. 

“This would have been a response to the emergency, this would have been the new council, this would have been the hope. And it has been blighted with a few lines which white that out.” 

Danny McMullan, who vociferously represents Disabled People outside and has organized encampments from time to time, closed the public comment period at the very end of the meeting with his outrage, and has submitted his resignation from the Homeless Commission. You can read his comments on what happened here. 

Me, I suspect that someone has given bad legal advice to both staff and council, telling them that they don’t have the power to tell city staff to stop the raids. I’ve heard talk of the staff’s use of the obviously unconstitutional state vagrancy statute, 647e, which forbids “lodging” in the wrong place. That’s nonsense—if the City takes it to court, they’ll lose. Osha Neumann has frequently written and litigated against that particular statute to good effect. 

It should be abundantly clear to Csarina Dee and the rest of her staff that a thirteenth raid on the encampment would be a very poor idea indeed, especially during the cold and dreary days around the winter solstice. Multiple lawyers, including Neumann and Emily Rose Johns of Oakland, who are currently suing Caltrans for rousting the Gilman Exit homeless camp, stand ready to explain the Constitution to the city of Berkeley in court, though we all hope it doesn’t come to that. 

Thanks to Councilmembers Hahn and Bartlett for at least getting the evidence on the record in case it’s needed, and to Cheryl Davila for sticking up for what’s right. 

“Are the raids going to stop? That’s a simple yes or no answer!” 

What is it, yes or no?” 

Maybe some of the erstwhile progressive councilmembers might even grow spines before their next meeting on January 24. Stranger things have happened. 

And happy holidays to all, including all of you fortunate housed people and also to the campers now outside in the cold, cold rain. 






If you’d like to help with insuring that the city can’t get away with any more of these raids, one way to do it is to contribute to Osha’s employer, the East Bay Community Law Center, which does all kinds of good work on many fronts. Here’s their donation page: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/ebclc . Send them some money.