Berkeley Neighborhoods Council
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The Neighborhood Forum
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This is a new section in the BNC eNEWS that will feature articles submitted by neighborhoods about any subject they wish to write about. Submissions should be as concise as possible, keeping in mind the balance between the content of the material and maintaining reader interest. All submissions must include the name of the author with contact information so we know who to call if there are any questions. The author's name will be published, but not his/her contact information unless specific permission is given to do so. Articles should be sent by e-mail to email@example.com. BNC will publish one or more articles, dependent on their length, per eNEWS along with comments, if any, about the article or articles that appeared in previous eNEWS issues which will always be available for easy reference on the website in the Archives Section. Articles will be published as written. The only restrictions on the articles are 1) articles must be about Berkeley neighborhood issues, concerns, questions, or actions - national and international issues should be addressed to others; 2) articles should not use “bad” language, including what might be interpreted as “hate” language against individuals or groups; and 3) articles should not defame individuals or groups. BNC reserves the right to refuse to publish an article and in the case of multiple articles to select which one(s) will be published. It is to be understood that all published articles are the opinion of the writer, and not necessarily that of BNC. BNC is setting up this Neighborhood Forum to encourage a lively dialogue between neighborhoods, so write away.
Today's submission is LOCCNA and the AmbassadorsBy Steve Martinot
There seems to be a bit of prejudice against the homeless in Berkeley on the part of officials and administrators, but it doesn't always filter down among the residents. One example of this was the defeat of the “Sit-Lie” ordinance on the ballot last November. Another example is what happened in the LOCCNA neighborhood (the north Shattuck and Rose area, sometimes called the “Gourmet Ghetto”) last April. [LOCCNA stands for Live Oak Codornices Creek Neighborhood Association.] unannounced to the neighborhood and the businesses, some of the City's “hospitality” personnel, officially known as Berkeley's “ambassadors,” showed up and started telling some of the street people, those panhandling, distributing “Street Spirit” (usually for a donation), and a folk-singer who played his guitar near the French Hotel, that they had to leave.
Various regulations were cited by these “hospitality ambassadors” for their actions, such as that it was illegal to block the sidewalk, that one could not sit on the sidewalk within 20 feet of a business, that sitting on the property side of the sidewalk rather than the curb side was a violation, stuff like that. These “hospitality ambassadors” even threatened to call the police if the person did not leave.
Needless to say, many people who frequented the businesses on those blocks were outraged. We know these people who are simply doing their best in a bad situation. We talk to them, and at times pass the time of day. Many of us just consider them part of the neighborhood, maybe down on their luck, and living in a society that doesn't take much responsibility for the well-being of its citizens. And we appreciate the folk-singer, who has an enormous repertoire, and does good blues.
We (members of the local neighborhood association, LOCCNA) visited the City Clerk to ask her if there were any regulations about sitting on the sidewalk, panhandling, or the like, and were told that the regulations were vague, and that only three standards were specified by the city code for the sidewalk. One cannot block the sidewalk to public access, which means that one cannot position oneself so that people cannot get by. Second, one cannot loiter or sit within 10 feet of an ATM. And third, one cannot sit within the property line of any property, if the property owner objects. But beyond that property line, the sidewalk is public domain. Indeed, someone in the clerk's office expressed the opinion that apparently popular sentiment was against any kind of strict regulations, in light of the defeat given the “Sit-Lie” ordinance at the polls.
So we investigated, talked to a few of these “ambassadors.” They were from the downtown office, a service run by Gerald Love, and hired out to the North Shattuck Association (the local BID - Business Improvement District; “district” in local political parlance means agency, and not geographic area). The ambassador “agency” gets money from the City for organizing and coordinating these “hospitality” people, who themselves get paid a bit. We don't know where the money goes that the NSA pays to the ambassador agency.
But when we spoke to the ambassadors, they said that they were instructed to harass the street people, and they didn't like it. Why is it that only those in higher official positions seem to think such harassment is a good thing to do?
A meeting was called between some people from the neighborhood, a couple of business people from the north Shattuck area, a representative of the police department, and the Director of the BID, to discuss the issue. And it all got straightened out. The folk-singer is back, some of the panhandlers are as colorful as they had been (some dress very imaginatively), Street Spirit is again available, and life goes on.
A little organization goes a long way. Businesses and the neighborhoods can cooperate and take collective responsibility for the life style of the neighborhood as long as they talk to each other. But we have to be vigilant, because there are people downtown who think they can do what they like in the neighborhoods, without prior consultation with the residents.