Tuesday night’s council meeting ended abruptly with a split vote to adopt new laws proponents say will help clean up Berkeley streets and provide storage and improved restroom facilities for the homeless.
Opponents of the laws say they will criminalize the homeless and have been protesting their adoption after a preliminary vote in November. About 30 people marched from Old City Hall to Tuesday’s council meeting at Longfellow Middle School to oppose the laws. They first rallied at Liberty City, an encampment that has drawn dozens to Old City Hall in recent weeks to protest the new measures.
Three council members did not respond when asked to vote, in an apparent act of protest, amidst disruptions from the crowd and several attempts by two officials to change the order of the meeting agenda as the night wore on.
Read more coverage of homelessness in Berkeley.
Vice Mayor Linda Maio ran the meeting because Mayor Tom Bates could only attend by telephone due to a recent injury. Maio said the new laws will increase access to public restrooms and create new secured storage facilities for the homeless. She said warnings will be issued prior to any tickets, and that none of the rules related to the storage of personal items in public space will go into effect until the city has storage units to offer.
“They can still sit and they can still sleep,” she said. About the new rules, she added, “There has been so much misinformation about what they are.”
The ordinances prohibit urination and defecation in public, as well as lying down in or on planters for trees.
Council previously discussed limits on the storage of personal belongings in public space, including sidewalks, to either 2 feet square or 2 square feet. Maio said that measurement is not in the ordinance language and will come back later for further discussion after the city’s traffic engineer weighs in. Space used by dogs and cushions for sitting are exempt from the calculation.
The citations related to the new laws will be infractions, not misdemeanors.
Dozens of members of the public, who each had 1 minute for comment, spoke mostly against the new laws and said they would be punitive and only serve to further gentrify the city. Some said they are also concerned the new laws will jeopardize federal funding Berkeley receives for homeless services. Others said officials should support the Liberty City encampment as a creative approach to the problem.
At times, community members shouted “shame,” and called for the resignation of city officials.
One speaker said council should scrap the new proposals and choose to be on the right side of history. Others said they had moved to Berkeley because of its reputation for prioritizing positive change, which they did not feel is reflected in the new rules.
“Just go for human decency. It’s a small step. End this farce now,” one woman told council.
Longtime community activist Michael Diehl promised council that the public will fight the measures.
“We’re gonna referendum this,” he told council. Speaking to the crowd, he added, “Let’s take this town back.”
After a failed vote shortly before 11 p.m. to extend the meeting to 11:30, Maio interrupted comments by Councilman Kriss Worthington and accused him of trying to “run down the clock” to avoid a vote on the street behavior measures.
Worthington had earlier interrupted public comment, at about 9:40 p.m., to make a point about what he believed to be unfair meeting procedures. When Maio stopped him from speaking, members of the crowd became incensed.
Maio said she would call for a vote on the street behavior measures if order was not restored, and one meeting attendee took the mic and proclaimed her decision to be a violation of the Brown Act — state rules governing public meetings — by denying Worthington and members of the public the chance to speak.
“You have the right to clear the room, but you do not have the right to deny people the right to speak,” JP Massar said. (See the video below.)
When Worthington tried to make a motion shortly before 11 p.m. to change the meeting schedule, Maio refused to allow it, prompting the crowd to continue its earlier outcry.
Council members Worthington, Max Anderson and Jesse Arreguín did not respond when the clerk called their names to register their votes. The rest of the council voted in favor of the ordinances. City Clerk Mark Numainville said the trio will be recorded as having abstained.
As angry members of the crowd shouted “this is a farce” and “this is railroading,” Councilman Darryl Moore repeatedly called, just before 11 p.m., for the meeting to adjourn over Worthington’s objections. (See the video below.)
Without a two-thirds majority vote to extend the meeting, it would have automatically ended at 11 p.m. under the City Council rules of procedure. The vote to extend the meeting to 11:30 p.m. had failed 5-4 after Arreguín changed his “yes” vote in favor of the extension to a “no.” Tuesday night, he did not provide a reason for the switch.
Most of the night’s action items were postponed because council ran out of time to discuss them. Two items related to the Berkeley Police Department, which had drawn a number of public speakers, never came up and will be heard later.
The only items discussed at length were two appeals related to the demolition of 2631 Durant Ave., which now goes back to the Zoning Adjustments Board for further discussion, and the street behavior item, which originally had been on the consent calendar. Maio pulled it to the action calendar because it was clear many people had come to the meeting to address it.
A proposal from Arreguín, to consider recommendations from his Homeless Task Force, was once again postponed due to time constraints. Arreguín said during the meeting he was frustrated by the repeated delays to consider “positive solutions” for adding services to help the homeless while council instead moves forward on the street behavior ordinances.
“These ordinances … are just going to shuffle homeless people from one part of Berkeley to another,” he said. “Let’s actually provide the services to get them off the streets.”
The next council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 8, and will focus on appeals related to project approvals for 2211 Harold Way. That meeting is also set to take place at Longfellow. See the public hearing notice.
This article was updated after publication to clarify the scope of comments by JP Massar as well as the meeting chronology.
Council on affordable housing, PRC protest report, homeless services, protest march (12.01.15)
Berkeley orders new homeless tent city to disband (11.25.15)
Op-ed: An open letter on the homelessness: You are being scammed by the City Council (11.24.15)
Op-ed: Being poor is not a crime (11.19.15)
Berkeley imposes new laws on homeless behavior (11.18.15)
Op-ed: Support the recommendations of the Homeless Task Force (11.17.15)
Op-ed: New homeless proposal accelerates ethnic and social cleansing (11.17.15)
Council battle brews over street behavior, homelessness (11.17.15)
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