by Carol Denney April 27, 2018
The Sidewalk Wars: Mayor Jesse Arreguin Explains that New Sidewalk Restrictions are Compassionate, by Carol Denney
Except for the newcomers, the people at the Special Meeting of the Berkeley City Council on Thursday, April 26th, 2018 at Longfellow Middle School probably wondered if they hadn't already had this bad dream. The fix is in. The seats are uncomfortable. Anybody who can't hike a flight of stairs is scattered across the floor. And one voice from the Downtown Berkeley Association's business group is considered the rough equivalent of hundreds of voices from the rest of the town.
If you are new to the Sidewalk Wars, they began over forty years ago when developers and politicians didn't bother to wonder what would happen to poor people if they converted low-income housing, single room occupancy housing, boarding houses, etc. to condos and penthouses. People doubled up, converted porches, garages, etc., but those who were one illness or job loss away from losing it all ended up discretely living in parks, cars, or couch-surfing so they could stay close to jobs or family.
That gold mine is still giving. We have yet to find politicians who can stand up and say no to building more and more housing for the people who need it least. Tinkering with sidewalk laws, on the other hand, is styled as "compassionate" in a town that clearly knows better, since it soundly voted down the last attempt at a sidewalk law, but doesn't really like holding its politicians' feet to the fire on its way to the mescal flight and the book fair.
The special hell the Berkeley City Council suffered after the captioners' break at the Special Meeting is on video on the City of Berkeley's webpage though the audio makes them sound like distressed fish underwater. Watch in awe as they try to rationalize bizarre descriptions of and instructions regarding what one can do with "cushioning" (I have some suggestions), and the niceties of whether or not dogs are actually "stationary." They looked as miserable as they deserved to be.
If I'm being hard on the less enthusiastic among them it's because instead of having a press conference before the meeting denouncing this discriminatory effort - given that the Planning Department still hasn't been able to find a single business with tables, chairs, etc. in front of their businesses that actually has a legal permit - it was a lot of posturing and putting lipstick on the pig. Kriss Worthington from District Seven was sick, and Ben Bartlett of District Three was absent, so it was Jesse and the gals having a miserable time putting a target on the backs of people who have next to nothing except the common sense to come and speak for one measly minute because what the hey, common sense and principle in scarce supply is stocked pretty well on the street and in the networks of people who know this is a civil rights issue and at least they can entertain each other.
It's a draft, the councilmembers kept saying, and that's true. It could have been worse, they noted privately, and that's true, too. But standing outside that meeting in the Bay Area's April chill, one has to wonder why a town's leadership keeps throwing the same mess at the same wall hoping it sticks. Because it doesn't take much effort in this internet-crazy town to count up all the vacancies.
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