Photo: Nancy Rubin

In an Opinionator piece published today Elisa Della-Piana argues that Measure S, which, if passed, would prohibit sitting on sidewalks in commercial areas between 7am and 10pm, would establish the simple act of sitting as a crime in our community. It won’t improve business, solve homelessness or make us safer, she says. It’s an approach that doesn’t fit well with Berkeley, she adds —  and, perhaps most importantly of all, it’s not a law she will find easy to explain to her five-year old son.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles of 500 to 800 words. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related and local authors are preferred. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

"*" indicates required fields

See an error that needs correcting? Have a tip, question or suggestion? Drop us a line.

Berkeleyside is Berkeley, California’s independently-owned local news site. Learn more about the Berkeleyside team. Questions? Email

61 replies on “Op-Ed: Measure S is a step backwards for Berkeley”

  1. Charles, from Deuteronomy 16:20 – translated “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow  … ”   or “Strive for nothing but justice … ” where justice is not masculine or feminine   – – –   but you are right, justice that includes charity is best.  

    Simple fairness requires that “service resistant” addicts and “lost souls” not harass /  intimidate / assault / batter others.  If what they want is money, drugs, or just to harass and terrify passersby for the “thrill” of it, business districts of Berkeley provide a “target rich” environment.   These “service resistant” people are making a specific choice to be where they can get what they want.

    If Measure S can create a situation where “service resistant” people can be pushed into recovery, all the better.

  2.  I think it is probably “her story” rather than “his story,” since Tzedek talks about her husband.

    I always assumed Tzedek was a man, because it is a masculine noun in Hebrew (meaning justice).  She could use the feminine noun Ts’dakah (meaning righteousness or charity) instead.

  3.  Anotheranon, I have not written about what happened to our girls before.   It seems you have us confused with someone else.

  4.  Well, I have no idea who Tzedek is but I don’t doubt his story at all since I’ve similar experiences with my kids both on that part of Shattuck and Telegraph. I no longer take my kids downtown or to Telegraph either.

  5. Again, this is not San Francisco and the measure being proposed is not the same as the one in SF.  Have you read the ballot measure or are you just drinking from the Kool Aid.

  6. Perhaps you would like to describe the above decisions.  But I will argue further that these groups of homeless that choose to take over the sidewalks, impair my ability to move around and my liberty to enjoy my freedom of movement.  Don’t I get to be protected by the 14th.?

  7. The citizens of Berkeley are being injured.  Emotionally and otherwise.  The homeless are being injured because we have zero expectations of them.  Most of the homeless are mentally ill or addicted to alcohol or drugs and they need help.  Not Liberty as you say because being addicted or mentally ill gives you no future or hope.  Further, the ones that choose the “lifestyle” injures the rest that have to work for a living and pay taxes to keep these “Stylists” fed and safe.  There is no equality here when the chronically homeless, sick or otherwise, take over these areas and keep the rest of the members of our society from equal enjoyment.

  8. What is your answer?  Oh, you don’t have one.  What a pity.  Mitch we have to start somewhere and I have rarely seen a police person confront a homeless person in a mean manner unless they are unruly and causing problems and even then I have seen them being very gentle.  It is possible that one or two may not be gentle, but, most of them are and I have seem many encounters.

  9. If Alameda county would take its’ responsibility seriously it would instate “Laura’s Law” which would assist the mentally ill homeless plus save some lives.  Of course the same group that loves the folks that lie on the streets and think it is quaint, would argue that “Laura’s Law” inhibits the freedom of these mentally sick folks by forcing them to get treatment.  

  10. I’m not particularly interested in accuracy when it comes to quoting the Bible, sorry. It’s not one of my favorite books.

  11.  How about going beyond San Francisco to look at  the results of sit-lie in Santa Monica and Santa Cruz.  Sit-lie has succeeded in these cities, which are more like Berkeley than San Francisco is.

  12.  The “liberty” clause has been reinterpreted repeatedly to suit the bias of the judge. 

    In Lochner, the Supreme Court reinterpreted it to mean that laws setting minimum wages and maximum work hours were illegal. 

  13.  “If someone if sitting in the median strip eating pizza, I’m all for that.”

    Former council candidate says he is “all for” law breaking!!!

    In the presidential election, there would be dozens of gotchas over that one innocent statement.

  14. I agree with you that there is no way of knowing how it will be enforced and I think that’s what worries me so much (somewhat hyperbolic to relate it to the Patriot Act, but imho reducing your own freedom because you’re scared is never a good idea).  Even if its enforcement is generally lenient and well-meaning, the mere fact that it could be used to restrict people’s freedom (even non-aggressive citizens) means it shouldn’t become a law.  What if people wanted to engage in a sit-in at a local business or as you mention, harmlessly sit and eat their food.  Chances are these wouldn’t be an issue, but the fact remains that they would technically be breaking Berkeley law.

    For those that say “I shouldn’t have to put up with aggressive people on our streets”, I whole-heartedly agree, but there are already enforcements in place to have someone detained for assaulting you or being aggressive, and similarly, the status quo is if a person is negatively impacting business and loitering outside, you may call the police.  

    All that being said, if I owned a business and saw dollars to be made going to El Cerrito or some suburban outlet mall, I’d want to blame something / someone too and there’s no question the homeless / panhandling issue is only getting worse.  I think there’s a good chance this will pass, I just personally don’t feel this is the solution and it saddens me.

  15. I’m for Measure S.  I think it’s important to have tools to encourage people to get into services, help the merchants, and return civility to our Downtown and Telegraph business districts.  Of course, there’s no way of knowing how it will be enforced.  If someone if sitting in the median strip eating pizza, I’m all for that. But if someone is aggressive (or has an aggressive dog) well, that’s quite another thing altogether.  Everyone exceeds the speed limit, the but CHP only goes after those far exceeding it.  I think the enforcement of Measure S will be something like that.

    I also think it’s important that we figure out how we as a community really feel about this issue and this referendum — up or down — will give us a chance to do that.There are no “good” answers here.  It would be great if people had jobs, places to live, purposeful, productive work. It would also be great if the City could provide services for all those who needed it.  But of course neither will never be true — the best thing we can do is provide as many services as we can afford, encourage people to take advantage of them, and discourage inappropriate behavior on the street.  I think Measure S is attempting to do that.

  16. Continually monitoring “conduct” so others (me, our kids, wheelchairs, etc.) can come and go in the public right-of-way without being harassed / threatened / assaulted / battered by mentally ill persons who have specifically refused treatment and are, therefore, homeless, is impossible !    Measure S, an ordinance that provides LEVERAGE for social services to be administered, is a step toward GETTING what you write you want to happen:   services to be provided for those who are “service resistant” !

  17. Like David, other households, and other pedestrians, our household has received numerous flyers that include statements that are misleading-at-best, FALSELY stating that our kids would not be able to have a lemonade stand (and etc.) in front of our home if Measure S passes.   

    Please read Dan Ariely and other behavioral economists about how some involved in politics or business are comfortable lying because they excuse their lies as “a means to a ‘noble end’.”   However, research demonstrates that lying as “a means to a ‘noble end'” destroys “nobility” of the liars and often destroys the “noble end” the “noble” liars hoped to create.

  18. I walk Berkeley streets with my 4 year old often.  I don’t feel unsafe.  I don’t feel threatened.  I feel sad for the people who have nowhere else to go.
    I’m baffled by everyone who feels so incredibly threatened by homeless people sitting outside a business.  If they yell, feel free to ignore them.
    I rode a bus the other day with a man who talked at the top of his lungs the entire time, ranting and raving on every topic, including racist ones.  Are we going to create a law that people who are a bit mentally unstable can’t ride buses either, because it makes some of us uncomfortable?

  19. “…[T]he
    United States recognizes… the freedom to loiter for innocent
    purposes is part of the ‘liberty’ protected by the Due Process
    Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. We have expressly identified this
    ‘right to remove from one place to another according to
    inclination’ as ‘an attribute of personal liberty’ protected by
    the Constitution… Indeed, it is apparent that an individual’s
    decision to remain in a public place of his choice is as much a part
    of his liberty as the freedom of movement inside frontiers that is
    ‘part of our heritage’ Kent v. Dulles, 357 U.S. 116, 126 (1958),
    or the right to move ‘to whatsoever place one’s own inclination
    may direct’ identified in Blackstone’s Commentaries. 1 W.
    Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 130 (1765). (pp.
    53–54)” US Supreme Court, Chicago v. Morales, 1999

  20. If money (read: services) was the solution to homelessness, Berkeley would have very few homeless on its sidewalks.

  21. Because of our good hearts we’re susceptible to arguments like “there aren’t enough services”.   I do think that should be examined.  The services needed would provide a place to stay/live for a couple or group, a dog or two, their stuff, and some of their preferred imbibement.  Whether or not there are enough beds, shelters in town are single gender, and prohibit dogs, drinking and drugs.  Would you like to manage the shelter that allows them?

    Berkeley has a lot of services.  Now it is time to do a service for ourselves.  I think this measure is largely taking the pulse:  are we still anything goes, or are we willing to stand up for ourselves?  It isn’t civil to allow anything goes on our sidewalks.

  22. if you’ve read any of the comments, or are interested in having a genuine discussion that is not Hamilton vs. Jefferson for the Nth time, then you’ll realize that aggressive street people do infringe upon the liberty and enjoyment of other citizens of Berkeley.  it’s quite clear if you’re willing to put aside your civics text for a moment and ponder reality.  see the comments of the citizens who no longer go downtown due to feelings of intimidation or harassment–is there no harm done to them?  

  23. If you live in SF, why are you so interested in a proposed measure in Berkeley?
    Something something log in your own eye, something something mote in your brother’s.

    Sit/lie in SF was passed primarily through the actions of the Haight businesses.
    Sit/lie in SF is enforced primarily in the Haight district.
    Sit/lie in SF is considered effective by at least 40% of the merchants in that area.

    How long ago did you leave SF, assuming you did?
    What part of SF did you live in?
    Why are you trying to pretend that SF and Berkeley are analogous cities?

  24. Is sitting on the sidewalk in business districts during business hours – rather than sitting on a bench or in a nearby park – really necessary? What is the injury in asking those who wish to sit to go to one of our many public benches or public parks?

    Can any of us honestly claim that the roving vagrant camps that have been occupying our public spaces injure no one else?

  25. I lived in SF before and after the sit-lie laws.  It made absolutely zero difference in the number of people I had to climb over to get out of my house in the morning.   This is not the way to fix this problem.  

  26. Protecting liberty means we don’t make laws against things unless it’s absolutely necessary.  Before restricting a liberty, we ask: is this really necessary?  What is the injury?  If we want our country to remain free, we must always ask this question, and take it seriously.  Otherwise, watch out… the whole country becomes a gated community where the HOA decides where you can sit, how loud you can talk, and what color curtains you’re allowed to have.  

    In Thomas Jefferson’s words: “Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights.”

  27. Funny, I don’t remember reading anything about the freedom to sit on the sidewalk in the Declaration.
    It’s not one of the first freedoms that comes to mind for me when I think about our rights here in America, but maybe I just missed it in my High School Civics class.

    Care to point out that passage for me?

  28. If you want some facts, how about the fact that BERKELEY IS NOT SAN FRANCISCO.
    We are a city of 112 thousand, not a city of 805 thousand. We are a city of 17 square miles, not 49 square miles.

    40% of merchants think it’s an improvement? GREAT!
    Beat cops say it gives them a tool to get people to move along without having to ticket them? GREAT!
    Officers do not issue citations or tickets in the majority of cases? GREAT!

    Does this sound like a good plan for Berkeley? YES!!!

  29. One would hope that a news outlet would at least fact check blatant lies, or link to the full text of the measure.

  30. I wonder whether any of the guys commenting below actually lives on a street where traveling teenagers with pit bulls that are out of control lie on the side walk with blankets and back packs spread out? They are clearly making the experience of walking down the street uncomfortable and at times intimidating not only to seniors but to anyone of any age. Notably, I have rarely seen a homeless person lie on a side walk in Berkeley. I live on Telegraph Avenue and if any of you want to trade your Berkeley hills home for my apartment and stumble over pit bulls and back packs every day you are more than welcome. 

  31. It’s quite easy to explain No on S to children: “We live in America, where we treasure our freedom.”  

    Since 9/11, our nation has given up so many freedoms in the name of (someone’s idea of) security. I can’t believe Berkeleyans are willing to make something as simple as sitting down illegal for us all, not in the name of security but just in order to avoid some annoyance.

    Folks, our freedom is precious.  It’s something that makes our country special.  We should not limit our own freedoms unless absolutely necessary.

  32. How about a 69 year old who shops in El Cerrito or Emeryville now to make shopping a pleasant experience? I used to shop downtown Berkeley. No more.

  33. Perhaps those who object to the measure, might prefer to have said individuals park on the sidewalk outside their home[s], whereby they could explain to their small children why it is those people are sitting there in the first place? Or maybe lounging in or about the local school[s]. Educational, wouldn’t you say?

  34. How about a 91 year old who’s uncomfortable walking on the streets but cannot bring himself to vote for an ineffectual (my gut feeling) regulation that empowers/encourages cops to confront hostile people.  They do that anyway, with impunity and with the same non-effect.  I just don’t see “S” as an answer this problem — back to the drawing board.  

    Mitch Vanbourg, Berkeley

  35. If you want some facts, how about Key Findings from the March 2012 San Francisco report after one year of implementation of its sit/lie ordinance. The report focused on the Haight (Park Police Station), which had been the source of the most intense complaints of loiterers and lobbying for the ordinance. These are quotes from the Executive Summary of the report.

    * From March to December 2011, there were at least 306 reported citations issued for violations of Sit/Lie citywide*. During this period, police officers at Park Station, which has jurisdiction over the Haight, reported issuing 70 written warnings, 152 citations and booking ten individuals for violating Sit/Lie.

    * Based on Park Station’s internal logbook, 90 percent of the citations issued were to repeat violators of the law, and more than half were issued to just four individuals. Repeatedly fining and arresting this handful of individuals, who are often chronically homeless and have significant health conditions, has not resulted in significant behavioral changes.

    * In a survey of over 50 merchants in the Haight, 58 percent said that the number of individuals sitting in front of their business has stayed the same or increased since the law passed. 40 percent reported a decrease. 60 percent did not think the law had been effective at abating aggressive panhandling, soliciting or loitering in proximity to their business.

    * Beat cops at Park Station and across the City report that the law provides a tool to ask people to move along without having to issue a citation. In the majority of cases, individuals often stand or leave, and a citation is never issued. Officers and merchants also noted that individuals sometimes simply walk to a nearby sidewalk and sit there.

    * Those violating Sit/Lie are not consistently offered tangible referrals to services – in most cases they are handed a half–sheet of paper which lists city services that can be accessed by calling 311 or 211. In addition, there is no system that tracks the number of individuals who have been referred and/or successfully connected to services as a result of Sit/Lie.

    * As of December 2011, there have been zero misdemeanor convictions for Sit/Lie, although numerous individuals have received multiple citations. The City’s Traffic Court is severely backlogged and is not an effective forum for handling violations by severely vulnerable populations. Alternative justice systems such as the Community Justice Center should be considered.

    So, does all this sound like a good plan for Berkeley?

  36. I think we’ve got the makings of a contest.  “Help Elisa explain gutter punks to her 5 year-old.”  Could be fun.  Twitter-based character limit?

  37. If you can’t explain it to your five year old, try this: Measure S prevents scary punks from taking over sidewalks downtown so they can be enjoyed by everybody. 

  38. that article starts with an appeal to the logic of a 5-year old and is filled with distracting false conclusions (e.g. measure S won’t solve homelessness–no, it’s not intended to).  it’s the sort of article someone who never walks on the street would write in misleading defense of high-minded humanism.

  39.  Democracy demands that we hear all sides, whether it is painful to hear, or not. For Berkeleyside to not publish this would mean that it is leaning toward taking a partisan position..  Not a good place for a hyperlocal news source or any news source, for that matter.

    Kudos to Berkeleyside for publishing this OpEd.

  40. You got glossy flyers? My apartment complex keeps getting littered with flyers on regular yellow paper stock. You should see the people passing them out: They have a youthful twinkle of innocence in their eyes. I suspect the No on S campaign is using student labor. Anybody that’s lived here more than a year knows this is a real problem.

  41. Complete garbage based entirely on conjecture and misleading implications, with scarcely a shred of fact to hold it together.

    Considering the way the Anti-S campaign is already littering the streets with lie-filled glossy mailers, I’m disappointed to see something like this published in Berkeleyside.

Comments are closed.