I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and are planning enjoyable holidays. Recently my office has received several emails from District 4 neighbors concerned about the growing street population and problematic behaviors they have encountered Downtown, and throughout Central Berkeley.
I have heard alarming stories of residents, including children, being assaulted by people who are exhibiting signs of psychosis or are under the influence of drugs. I have been informed of instances of urination and defecation in broad public view, and other troubling behavior.
It is completely unacceptable for this kind of behavior to occur on our sidewalks, in our parks and in other public spaces. All of this is illegal under existing State and local laws.
Everyone who uses the public realm must abide by rules of conduct and decency to ensure our public commons are safe and inviting for everyone to use and enjoy.
Unfortunately, the influx this past year of people living on the streets has resulted in a marked increase in related problems. And we are not alone. Cities throughout the Bay Area – and the State – are experiencing an alarming increase in street homelessness. This has created a great deal of distress among our most vulnerable populations and totally unacceptable conditions for all members of our community.
The Berkeley Police Department has responded when encampments have popped up, making it clear that people can’t camp on public property or engage in other illegal behavior. The police were taking the same approach with the encampment in front of Old City Hall. They have also responded when individuals engage in violent or threatening behavior. But even with these outreach and enforcement efforts, there is not enough attention and resources to deal with the growing problems.
Recently, the City Council passed three new laws which are purported to fix problems on our sidewalks, but in reality only scratch the surface of the very significant challenges we face. Some of these laws will not be enforced until months down the road, providing little relief to residents dealing with these impacts now. While new rules and regulations sound like an easy fix, the fact of the matter is that most, if not all, of the offending behaviors are already illegal, and have been for decades - if not longer. In my conversations with the Chief of Police, it has become clear to me that our Police need our support, direction and resources to undertake real – and as humane as possible - enforcement.
Given the many concerns over problematic street behavior in our District, my office is:
- Hosting a community meeting on Street Behavior with Police and City staff on Saturday, December 12th from 2:30 to 4:00pm (details below).
- Introducing an urgency measure at the December 15, 2015 City Council meeting to direct Berkeley Police to enforce existing laws against aggressive, violent and/or threatening behavior and behaviors that impact public health and safety. This will help our Police prioritize addressing illegal behavior. I am also proposing that the City Manager increase Police patrols in the Downtown area.
Equally important, I also have been working with a broad coalition of organizations to develop long term solutions such as increased mental health services, outreach, expanded emergency shelter and housing, storage lockers, public restrooms and more.
While I am very sympathetic to the many legitimate needs of our homeless and street populations and want our City to help them in meaningful ways, I will not tolerate, and am working actively to address, the illegal, aggressive and unsanitary behaviors that are negatively impacting District 4 residents.
I hope you can attend my December 12th Community Meeting on street behavior and homelessness. If you see or are the victim of illegal behavior, please call the Berkeley Police at 510-981-5900, and if possible please let me know as well, by calling my Council office at 510-981-7140.
Councilmember Jesse Arreguin
IN THE NEWS
Affordable Housing Crisis
Berkeley is facing an affordable housing crisis. Rents continue to skyrocket each month pricing low-income and even middle-income residents out of our city. This crisis is a symptom of not only a regional problem fueled by the impact of the tech industry, but also due to state law allowing landlords to charge whatever rent the market will bear. As an example of how rapidly rents have increased, in 2014, the median rent for a one bedroom apartment was $1,300 a month. It is now $2,537. The price of rent is not the only cost being affected. The average cost to purchase a home has risen to $1.1 million.
This affordability crisis is having a transformative, negative impact on our community. Berkeley is rapidly losing the diversity that makes it such a wonderful dynamic city. I am deeply concerned about the dramatic changes happening in our community, and I am working hard to advance policies to fund more affordable housing and prevent displacement. This issue is my top priority.
On November 22nd, I attended a community teach-in on affordable housing with 180 other community members. Much was discussed around funding the Housing Trust Fund, protecting our current stock of rent controlled units, and how non-profits and cooperatives can provide below-market rate housing. The December 1st Council worksession was dedicated to affordable housing, including updates from the Berkeley Housing Authority on Section 8 vouchers, items to increase funds for the Housing Trust Fund, ways to streamline affordable housing projects, and an update from the City on below-market rate housing and the Housing Trust Fund.
Preparing for El Niño
This winter, El Niño is expected to bring heavy storms to our region that will likely cause flooding, downed trees and branches, and damaged power lines. We urge everyone to learn about the expected impact in Berkeley, and how to keep your homes and families safe. Tonight at a public meeting co-sponsored by the City Berkeley and the Berkeley Unified School District, attendees will be given the opportunity to learn more about the steps that the City is taking to prepare for winter storms as well as what community members can do before potential storms arrive. Please see below for details.
Giving Back During the Holiday Season
The Berkeley Police and Fire Departments will continue their annual tradition of participating in Toys For Tots. Each year, about 3000 toys are collected and distributed to Berkeley children who might otherwise not receive gifts during the holidays. You can drop off new, unwrapped toys at any fire station or the Public Safety Building at 2100 MLK Jr Way during the week of December 14th.
The Berkeley Food and Housing Project (BFHP) is currently looking for volunteers and donations. BFHP provides food, shelter, transitional and permanent housing, and support services to Berkeley’s homeless population. For more information on how you can help out, visit their website.
Youth Engagement, Advocacy and Housing (YEAH!) supports homeless youth by providing relief from the stress of living on the street, creating a community of friendship and mutual support, and encouraging the exploration of alternatives to street life. Support them with the amazing work they do by adding them to your holiday shopping list. Their Amazon Wish List can be found here. They are also always looking for volunteers. For more information, visit their website.
Dreaming Big: Public Education in Berkeley
Thursday, December 10th 6pm-7:30pm
Berkeley Technology Academy, 2701 MLK Jr Way
The Berkeley Federation of Teachers is holding a panel discussion regarding the scope and need for improvement of public education in Berkeley. The panel includes BUSD Board President Judy Appel, BUSD School Board Student Directors, a LeConte parent, a Longfellow teacher, and education scholar Peter Ross, Chief of Staff at the Learning Policy Institute at Stanford University. Pizza will be served starting at 5:30pm.
Get Prepared for El Niño
Thursday, December 10th, 6:30 – 8:30pm
Berkeley Unified School District Boardroom, 1231 Addison Street (easy and free parking at Browning)
The City of Berkeley and Berkeley Unified School District are hosting this workshop to help prepare your home and family for the potential high winds, rain, and flooding from El Niño storms. Light snacks and refreshments will be provided. There will also be a raffle for home emergency preparedness kits and other items.
24th Annual Ecology Center Craft Market
Downtown Berkeley Farmers’ Market, Civic Center Park
For two Saturdays in December, when you visit the farmers’ market you can browse the gorgeous, sustainable, hand-crafted work from local artists and artisans. From delicate jewelry to sustainably harvested wood kitchenware; from local wool to cozy sweaters to kraut-making devices; find it all and get inspired while shopping local and drinking hot cider.
Berkeley High School Holiday Meal
Berkeley High School, enter at Milvia and Kittredge
All members of the community are welcome to attend this annual event. There will be a coat check for oversized bags, shopping carts, or other large items. For insurance reasons, only service animals will be allowed, so please leave your furry friends outside. If you have any questions please contact John Villavicencio, Director of Student Activities, at 510-644-8990 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community Meeting to Discuss Homelessness
North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Avenue
To address the many concerns regarding homelessness, our office will be hosting a meeting to engage with Police and City Staff. Jesse will be facilitating this discussion and everyone is welcome.
Third Tuesday Climate Courage Forum
South Branch Berkeley Library, 1901 Russell Street
If you would like to learn more about climate change, its complexity, or how you can help at the local level, please join this useful event. If you have any questions, please call 510-549-3509.
UPCOMING COUNCIL ITEMS
Council Chambers, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr Way