For Immediate Release
Berkeley, CA….On November 6, Berkeley voters will decide whether to enact Measure S, a “Sit-Lie” ordinance that would ban sitting on sidewalks during business hours in the city’s commercial districts. Proponents of Measure S argue that the law will increase economic activity (“saves jobs”) and improve services to homeless people (“helps people”). But a new research report by the UC Berkeley School of Law Policy Advocacy Clinic finds no evidence that either of these goals is likely to be achieved.
At the request of a local coalition of community groups and individuals opposed to Measure S, the clinic conducted an independent analysis to test whether Sit-Lie laws deliver on their promises. Law students reviewed data on economic activity and homeless services in more than a dozen state and national Sit-Lie jurisdictions. They surveyed community organizations, municipal human services and economic development agencies, business groups and police departments; and they consulted local stakeholders about implementation challenges and opportunities. The clinic team said they were unable to find evidence of the purported benefits of Sit-Lie ordinances.
After examining California’s sales tax receipts from the State Board of Equalization, co-author Joe Cooter said, “we found no connection between enactment of these laws and increased economic activity. The city of Berkeley’s own data from the Office of Economic Development suggests that the presence of homeless people downtown and on Telegraph Avenue has not had a demonstrable impact on retail sales relative to other commercial zones. In fact, the law is likely to impose costs on the city in the form of implementation, enforcement and legal defense.”
Violation of Measure S constitutes a crime punishable by a fine of $75 dollars or community service, and subsequent violations can be charged as misdemeanors. Failure to pay the citation or attend a court hearing can result in an arrest warrant.
“Based on our research, many barriers to public benefits, housing, and employment are created by criminal penalties,” said law student and co-author Emily Soli. “In spite of proponents’ claims that Measure S will help people, the ordinance doesn’t describe how it will connect homeless people to services. In fact, the ordinance doesn’t mention services at all. Since the city’s affordable housing units are at capacity and there is insufficient shelter space, Measure S will likely make it harder, not easier, for at least some homeless people to access services.”
Co-author Ericka Meanor said that Measure S supporters may have good intentions, but the initiative itself is misguided. “Laws targeting specific groups that a community deems ‘undesirable’ have existed for centuries, especially during economic downturns,” said Meanor. “They raise serious constitutional concerns and have the potential to cause great harm. What cost are we willing to bear as a community to enact a law that is largely ineffective in meeting its economic and social goals?”
A 2010 report from the city’s Economic Development Manager recommends several strategies to improve Berkeley’s economic climate, but none of them includes a Sit-Lie ordinance. In fact, national and local data show that supportive housing is a more effective way to reduce homelessness and related costs. Berkeley’s own supportive housing program – Square One – has been identified by the city as being successful at keeping chronically homeless people off of the streets.
“Our research suggests that Measure S fails the most basic test of sound public policy, that is, whether it will deliver on its promised results,” said Clinical Professor of Law Jeffrey Selbin. “These findings should give Berkeley voters pause before adopting an unproven and unpromising strategy for addressing commercial and social service challenges in the City.”
The report’s key findings include: