Are the Berkeley raids going to stop?

Friday, December 16, 2016
The Berkeley Daily Planet By Becky O’Malley

“Are the raids going to stop? That’s a simple yes or no answer!”

That’s the question one of the after-Council speakers posed on Tuesday night (or technically Wednesday morning) after a somewhat, no, very chaotic discussion of what needs to be done for Berkeley’s large and increasing population of homeless residents.

I watched all 5 hours and 33 minutes of the proceedings in the comfort of my home, and then checked out the video afterwards. I once passed the California Bar, and I’ve been a reporter off and on for fifty years, but I couldn’t figure out what the Berkeley City Council thought they were doing about the periodic raids City staff has been conducting on homeless encampments.

And yes, I called several of them afterwards to ask what happened. The only one who called back gave me a less-than-adequate explanation.

Let’s get the good news out of the way first. New Mayor Arreguin proposed a lengthy detailed list of actions on the agenda which he thought were appropriate to deal with what all councilmembers acknowledged was a crisis: close to 1000 human beings living outside in Berkeley in increasingly inclement winter weather.

Veteran Councilmember Worthington submitted a similar proposal, handwritten in writing little better than my own, which is a severe indictment. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why Worthington thought his was needed, but the council wasted easily an hour chewing it over.

So, what’s that good news again? Having failed to resolve the discussion of the two competing yet indistinguishable schemes, the council passed the ball to City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley, who proffered the concept of an “Emergency Operations Center”, making her what new Councilmember Ben Bartlett described as a “czar”. A muttered aside from the Mayor seemed to indicate that she’d raised the idea with him prior to the meeting, but on Tuesday night the councilmembers leapt on it like dogs on bones.

Evidently Czarina Williams-Ridley is supposed to figure out how to offer at least a percentage of the city’s homeless population, perhaps 160 individuals, the chance to get in out of the rain, with the usual hodgepodge of contemporarily acceptable services such as overnight shelter beds, warming centers (places to come in out of the rain), social services etc. etc. This is a big deal legally, because recent court cases point to the conclusion that you can’t arrest people for sleeping on the street unless you can offer an alternative. Check, alternative proffered.

No one on the council objected to any of this, nor should they. Where will the money come from? It’s up to the city manager, evidently.

But this still leaves the question posed up top, which was enunciated by someone I didn’t recognize, a striking-looking, small, very dark-skinned and notably determined woman who said she worked with the homeless but didn’t give her name on camera.

Are the raids going to stop?

Councilmember Cheryl Davila made a valiant attempt several times to get her fellow members to answer that question on the record, but didn’t get a binding response. Arreguin’s original proposal had included language on the topic, but for some reason it was deleted from his draft at the last minute before the meeting started.

The two lawyers who have joined the council did a pretty fair job of nailing the legal problems with the raids which have happened so far. Sophie Hahn first introduced the term “selective enforcement”, calling attention to the fact that the only encampment raided in recent weeks was the one with mouthy spokespeople, including Mike Zint, under the banner of First They Came for the Homeless, and Mike Lee, the “Old Bum for Mayor”. Even though people are sleeping rough all over town, singly and in groups, with or without tents, it’s only this loosely affiliated group, which has articulated its intent to call attention to the plight of all their fellows, which has been repeatedly busted.

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