by Carol Denney December 2020
Downtown Streets Team Toughens You Up for the Pandemic Long Haul, by Carol Denney, December 2020
Last Monday I walked to the mailbox. When I returned the path to my apartment was blocked by a crew of six or seven people wearing yellow "Downtown Streets" vests. I paused behind the crewmember directly in front of my only way forward and when he turned my way I saw he was wearing a mask - under his chin. Most of the crew, I realized, was doing the same. Masks under the chin, around the neck, below the nose, etc., and as he came closer I said could you please put your mask on?
He went from zero to sixty in a second, shouting "get your bitch-ass out of here, just keep walking." I was shocked, and just stood there dumfounded as he kept circling away and then back toward me without a mask, shouting that I was a white bitch. Another mask-free crew member joined him in saying I had no business being there, that I should get the eff out of there, that it was none of my business, that I was a bitch. One of them said that I should be wearing a mask, although I was fully masked. I asked who was their supervisor and they pointed out Pamela Frazier, who told them to watch their language, but took her mask off to do it. They kept insisting that I had no right to be there, that it was none of my f-ng business, etc. Pamela Frazier sat in a motorized chair as if this were routine.
I wasn't just being blocked from re-entering my home of over thirty years. I was paying for this learn-to-take-profanity-and-like-it program-- as are you if you're a Berkeley taxpayer. Although my District 1 Representative's aide speculated that private merchants had hired the crew, in fact the City of Berkeley is paying $225,000 to contract with a San Jose-based company to sweep leaves and litter, "abate graffiti", and perform "poster and advertising removal" according to a September 15, 2020 Consent Calendar item bumping them an additional $870,304. This program apparently makes sure that when you take a brief moment during the pandemic shutdown to mail a letter you'll get a shower of profanity, a face-full of irate aerosol from a mask-free crewmember, and a chance to watch your constitutionally protected fliers and community notices torn down by the city, who despite repeated reminders, still hasn't figured out that first amendment thing.
My neighborhood knows we're despised by the police and city staff, many of whom will go out of their way to raise an eyebrow when they hear where we live. I've had a police officer offer say, "how do you like living in that neighborhood?" as though he wouldn't be caught dead there. If you're assaulted, as I technically was by being screamed at by the city-paid crew member on December 7th, 2020, the response implies that it serves you right just for living there.
But our neighborhood is pretty good at recognizing that leaves dropping in the fall aren't really a problem. And that graffiti is a battle best engaged between the property owner and the artist in question. No city crew should be spending public money buffing up private property, let alone sweeping out their private parking lots as the unmasked crew I saw was doing. And that if city-paid employees aren't going to wear masks, urgent messages that the rest of us should have to wear them are put in stark, not to mention absurd, relief.
There is no complaint system for this Downtown Streets group, whose representative assured me he would obtain the bank security footage of the incident and get back to me and then just didn't bother. Or, rather, it's probably a lot like the current police complaint process. Complain if you dare, and then any complaint is weaponized against you while some private company counts their money. You'll probably be a great joke traded around at their Zoom holiday party if the stories published about Downtown Streets' company scandals are any indication, scandals which the sexual harassment element alone should have precluded their hire.
Enterprising local community members should note that what really runs this company is the facade of helping formerly or currently homeless people get job training, a concept which is so well-greased with guilt in Berkeley that it never matters who runs it or how badly it is run or who gets hurt. Because if autumn leaves falling really were a problem my neighborhood and I wanted help with, I could round up a crew from the nearby tent community in a day whose names I know and whose work I trust.
"Downtown Streets" is run by carpetbaggers posing as pious do-gooders exploiting the poor who perform maintenance work at what should be union jobs with real benefits. It's worth contemplation during this cold, difficult holiday time, that cuts in our own city's union jobs and union job hours are being redirected, through this poorly run program, right out of town. The profits sitting in pockets in San Jose are apparently not being missed by our city's administrators, whose own Zoom holiday party is coming right up.
Additional articles of interest about Downtown Streets:
# # #