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Berkeley measure banning sidewalk loitering narrowly defeated

November 7, 2012 |  9:53 am

A controversial Berkeley measure that would have banned sitting and lying on sidewalks in commercial areas between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. appears to have been narrowly defeated after leading in early results.

The measure, similar to one passed by San Francisco voters in 2010, was the most contested on the ballot in Berkeley, the birthplace of the free-speech movement and long known as a liberal bastion.

Absentee and provisional ballots are yet to be counted, but precinct voters rejected the measure 51.58% to 48.44%. Berkeley already has a measure prohibiting people from lying down on commercial sidewalks during the day but homeless denizens who gather largely on strips of storied Telegraph and Shattuck avenues often game it by sitting up when officers wander past.

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Proponents of the more expansive measure, including longtime Mayor Tom Bates, had argued that sidewalk loiterers and panhandlers are hurting business traffic and creating “increasingly inhospitable” public spaces.

Opponents countered that there are other reasons for commercial distress in some small business corridors, such as competition from big box and online retailers. Penalizing street people, they added, would do little to solve homelessness or address its complex causes.

The measure had created a volatile rift on the Berkeley City Council. While debating in June whether to put the matter to voters, opponents, including Councilman Kriss Worthington, joined measure opponents in singing “We Shall Not Be Moved” while Bates banged his gavel, ultimately cutting off further discussion.

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Nevertheless, the 74-year-old Bates handily won a fourth term Tuesday night in a contest with five opponents, Worthington among them.

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-- Lee Romney in San Francisco

 

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