Student groups hold rally on Sproul to protest sidewalk measure

A rally was held at the steps of Upper Sproul Plaza on Friday to protest and raise awareness of the controversial Measure S that will be voted on by Berkeley residents on Tuesday.

The “Students Against Measure S” rally was organized by UC Berkeley organizations the Suitcase Clinic and CalPIRG in conjunction with the city’s Peace and Justice Commission. About 30 UC Berkeley students and members of the community showed up to the event in protest of the measure, which would prohibit sitting on sidewalks in the city’s commercial district from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Protesters at the rally, which lasted for about an hour, sat down for its duration to mock the ballot measure.

Proponents of Measure S say the law will help improve business in the Downtown Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue area by punishing aggressive panhandlers and large encampments of transients with a fine. Opponents of the measure, however, say it will criminalize homelessness in the city and further target an already marginalized group of people without having any tangible effects on improving business or the homeless situation.

“The measure has been on the ballot for a couple of months now, and it’s our job at the Suitcase Clinic to advocate for our clients whenever they are unable to advocate for themselves,” said Tom McClure, a third-year student and an officer within the clinic.

McClure said the rally came about at the urging of the No On S Campaign, which is made up of a group of Berkeley citizens who want to raise awareness for the measure among students.

The rally featured various guest speakers, including Councilmember Kriss Worthington and ASUC Senator Sadia Saifuddin, who all stressed the measure would not bring an improvement to the city’s business districts and violates the rights of the homeless.

“That’s just ridiculous — it’s not criminalizing homelessness at all,” said Craig Becker, owner of Caffe Mediterraneum and president of the Telegraph Business Improvement District Board. “Every progressive city in California but Berkeley has a similar law.”

Becker said cities such as San Francisco have enacted successful legislation that is much stricter than the proposed measure.

However, Worthington said there are practical solutions the city can implement as an alternative — including having a police officer dedicated to walking up and down streets and increasing pedestrian lighting on streets to make people feel safer at night — that will cost the city less money to implement.

“Those are practical solutions, rather than creating a high cost to the city for police overtime and legal fees and a high cost to the county for incarcerating,” he said.

Protester Erica Thomas, a fourth-year student and member of the Suitcase Clinic, said the city should also expand homeless shelter hours during the day. By being open in the day, shelters would offer a safe place for homeless people to get medical services and to build their resumes and job hunt, she said.

“We do not have enough daytime drop-in centers where people can be safe and don’t have to sit on the sidewalks,” Thomas said.

Contact Andy Nguyen at [email protected].