Public Comment

Open Air Dining - at the Public's Expense

Carol Denney
Friday May 29, 2020 - 04:16:00 PM

The "Berkeley Safe Open Air Dining" proposed for the June 2, 2020 Action Calendar is an outrage.

I've been a Berkeley citizen for almost fifty years, and have watched in horror as the council's priorities skewed more and more in favor of those with money and property squarely against the people inevitably displaced by those same priorities -- especially as they relate to the use of public spaces.

Nothing illustrates this better than having the same business lobbies that worked to try to outlaw panhandling and sitting on the sidewalk, and succeeded in outlawing having more than three square feet of belongings decide, in the middle of a health crisis predominantly affecting the poor, to offer special rights to monetize public spaces for profit only to businesses the lobby represents.

Even former Mayor Shirley Dean argued that these property-based business lobbies should be self-funded over time, rather than inordinately and eternally fed by the fees on public property such as public schools, universities, and even our community post office. This is particularly outrageous now, when the public needs what little is left of its income and needs its parks and sidewalks more than ever for basic human needs. 

These businesses have every right to organize for their own benefit -- at their own expense. But it is hypocritical in the extreme to allow this group to take advantage of the public spaces and parks near their businesses, the same public spaces police often drag poor people to jail for being in at all. We have made no progress in improving our police oversight, and the groups of street monitors and cleaning crews hired and organized by the business lobbies -- but paid for by the public -- have no independent oversight at all. 

Our city ordinances are now fully littered with laws aimed squarely at the poor and their belongings. But if the local sock puppet for a business lobby lifts a finger for even more the council burns rubber re-jiggering ordinances in favor of anything they want. In this case, the monopolization and monetization of public space at the time we need public spaces most; during a pandemic when the need to physically distance oneself from others on crowded public sidewalks makes simply taking a walk on a sidewalk or through a park is an anxiety-ridden minefield. 

Public space already has a purpose. The businesses and their lobbies should respect that purpose, and also applicable law. The Berkeley Public Parks and Open Space Preservation Ordinance (Ordinance No. 5785-N.S.) known as "Measure L" plainly states: 


That no public parks (hereinafter defined) or public open space (hereinafter defined) owned or controlled or leased by the City of Berkeley or agency thereof, shall be used for any other purpose than public parks and open space, without The Berkeley City Council first having submitted such use to the citizens for approval by a majority of registered Berkeley voters voting at the next general election." 

In other words, the "Berkeley Safe Open Air Dining" requires a city-wide public vote to legally cannibalize our scarce public spaces and distort their purpose toward monetization. I look forward to the City Manager's report reminding the Berkeley City Council of this 1986 city-wide mandate created by those who foresaw so well that moneyed interests would one day eye our parks, wide sidewalks, and open spaces with greedy, self-interested eyes.