A group of people on Telegraph Avenue, long a destination for travelers and transient people. Photo: Nancy Rubin

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates is asking that the City Council consider putting a sit-lie ordinance on the November ballot and the issue will be discussed at the council’s June 12 meeting.

“We’ve been making substantial progress making our streets more civil,” Bates told Berkeleyside. “We want to have people feel comfortable when they walk in the city.”

Bates said an ordinance could be similar to those in force in Seattle, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Santa Monica. Unlike the San Francisco ordinance, however, his intent is to have an ordinance that would only apply in Berkeley’s commercial zones from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Berkeley law currently makes lying on sidewalks an offense, but Bates said “it’s very difficult to enforce” that provision.

The sit-lie ordinance in San Francisco passed in November 2010 with 54% of the vote, and it went into force in January 2011. It covers sidewalks citywide, not just in commercial areas, and requires the city to maintain an outreach plan to provide access to social services to those who need them. Officers are required to give a warning before they issue a citation. A single offense brings a $100 ticket, and subsequent offenses may result in 30 days in jail.

SFWeekly recently wrote about the results of a report from City Hall Fellows which questioned the effectiveness of the San Francisco ordinance. San Francisco police are, according to the report, repeatedly ticketing “an older homeless population, many of whom suffer from both mental and physical health conditions”. SFWeekly wrote that “the ordinance is a total failure in actually dissuading San Francisco’s homeless from sitting on public pavements”.

Any sit-lie ordinance would likely involve fines of $50 to those who don’t comply, and would cost the city around $30,000 to implement according to reports. It is likely to have the most impact on downtown Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue.

As part of a $1.2 million Property-Based Improvement District for downtown, hospitality ambassadors are currently reaching out to homeless and transient people. The ambassadors’ role is to monitor behavior on the street and remind people to abide by ordinances if necessary. A particular focus has been BART Plaza. The staff also work closely with social services for individual cases.

Telegraph Avenue, long a destination for travelers and a transient youth population, recently saw the introduction of a regular police patrol — a response to complaints from merchants and shoppers about the increase in the number of people loitering on the sidewalks.

Bates said a Berkeley sit-lie ordinance “is an important statement to make on creating more civil streets.”

Police step up patrols on Telegraph to keep sidewalks clear [05.01.12]
Newly cleaned up downtown hopes to attract more retail [04.04.12]
Anti sit-lie campaigners take protesters to City Hall [04.27.11]

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...