Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates' proposal to ban sitting on sidewalks would not go into effect until July 1, 2013, to give the city time to offer social services to those who would violate the new law, he said Tuesday.
Bates and two other City Council members, Laurie Capitelli and Linda Maio, called a news conference to publicize the idea that his proposal would not "criminalize the homeless." The three spoke to reporters a few hours before a City Council meeting to decide if the measure goes to voters in December.
On Monday, two other council members, Kriss Worthington and Jesse Arreguin, and a coalition of homeless advocates held a news conference of their own to denounce Bates' proposal as adding "a draconian law to a city renowned for tolerance and peace."
City leaders were expecting a beyond-capacity crowd for Tuesday's meeting that they estimated would go late into the night with homeless advocates squaring off against downtown business interests who believe the legions of youths sitting and asking for change are driving away customers.
Bates' proposal, if passed by the City Council on Tuesday night and by voters in November, would ban sitting on sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. and would be confined to commercial districts. Exceptions would be made for medical emergencies, sitting on bus stops and benches, sitting in wheelchairs, or sitting while attending parades and other events.
Maio said Tuesday before the meeting that
"We need to get them off the street, that's the goal," Maio said. "Life on the street is hell. Kids are preyed upon by drug dealers and sexual predators."
During the news conference, Capitelli said he did not want the proposed law to have "a sledgehammer approach."
"This would be one tool and it's a last resort tool," Capitelli said. "Before it's implemented we want to refocus our resources and make sure people have a place to stay and shelter."