News & Opinion » Letters & Guest Essays

Letters for the Week of October 17, 2012

Readers sound off on Measure S, Trattoria La Siciliana, and the Oakland Zoo.



Our October 10 news story "Disturbing New Evidence About OPD" mistakenly stated that private investigator Jan Gilbrecht had been hired by civil rights attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin.

Our October 10 election story "There's a Hole in the Bucket" erroneously stated the amount of the so-called "trigger cuts" that would take place should Proposition 30 fail. It's $6 billion, not $4.8 billion. Also, the current state tax rate for high-income earners is 9.3 percent, not 11.5 percent.


"Unfounded Fears," Election 2012, 10/3

S Is About Removal, Not Rehabilitation

Rachel Swan strolls the avenues with John Caner, the gangly CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, and a prime mover behind Measure S. Candidly, he tells her that when sidewalk sitting is outlawed, he "foresees a system in which ambassadors would quietly shoo homeless people away from the city's main commercial districts, making them cleaner and more pedestrian-friendly, while creating an uptick in foot traffic to bolster local businesses."

The veil slips for a moment and the truth is revealed. Measure S is about sweeping homeless people off the street. It's about preemptive criminalization. Some homeless people may do bad things, so let's criminalize something they do that's innocuous. It's not about getting them services. It's about getting them out of here.

Osha Neumann, chair, No on S Campaign


Do the Issue Justice

I was deeply upset by Rachel Swan's piece on Measure S, in particular by her closing:

"Even if Measure S isn't a fix-all, it can certainly make street life downtown a little less convenient for Cody. If voters pass the ordinance this November, he'll have to find a new bedroom."

Rarely is animus toward Berkeley's homeless people so unabashed that we have journalists saying, "Three cheers for someone suffering from mental illness being inconvenienced and forcibly relocated!" and referring to a man's belongings as "detritus."

With tensions running so high around this law and those it targets, it is not surprising that journalists would get swept up in the fury, too; however, this fraught emotional climate requires more than ever that the public be educated about what S will and will not accomplish in a way that's balanced and factual. As the East Bay's "alternative" long-form news source, the Express is uniquely positioned to deliver that. Here's to hoping that, with a month to go until the election, you can run another story and do this issue justice.

Joey Shemuel, Berkeley

Standing Up for Sitting Down

Your article on Berkeley Measure S is misleading and startlingly one-sided, and we believe does voters a real disservice. Instead of educating voters about the facts, your report relies largely on impressionistic generalizations and flawed stereotypes about Berkeley and homeless people — and in large part simply echoes the campaign rhetoric of the proponents of Measure S without critical evaluation.

The well-documented facts your report chose to ignore (all of which we shared with your reporter) include these:

• According to the Berkeley city manager, the business corridors targeted by Measure S, Telegraph and Downtown, experienced the lowest levels of business decline during the height of the recession, from 2008-2010. • Your article states that ambassadors will be the first line of enforcement for Measure S, when, in fact, there is no such provision in the measure — none whatsoever. Nor are ambassadors trained for this work: Ambassadors clean sidewalks and give visitors directions.

• Measure S repeats San Francisco's sit-lie law, which has failed to improve business, public safety, or homeless services, according to an independent study commissioned by the city controller; you dismiss that study with a wave of the hand, yet the majority of Haight Street merchants reported that San Francisco's law had not improved the street. While dismissing this independent analysis, the article cites one merchant who in fact served as the public face of the campaign for sit-lie in San Francisco. His store was the pro-sit-lie campaign's kick-off site.

• Berkeley suffers a serious shortage of shelter beds, just 135 spots for more than 600 homeless people. The situation is worse for homeless youth: Only 35 beds, all of which are full from when the youth shelter opens in November until its closure in April.

Particularly startling was the article's degree of bias and one-sidedness: we counted (and re-counted) a full 26 paragraphs relating pro-Measure S arguments, in-depth and with language that ranged from neutral to supportive; a mere 5 paragraphs gave the No on S side, often including dismissive language that provided no informative value. Also consider this: Eight pro-S sources were quoted directly, just one for No on S (two others were briefly paraphrased). No article is perfectly balanced, and we understand it's not the mission of the Express to provide a neutral 50-50 report. But this article is radically one-sided, quoting Berkeley real estate and business district officials at great length while not doing the basic journalism of getting our response — or verifying the accuracy of pro-S claims.

For instance, your article opines, incorrectly and without corroboration: "As for opponents of Measure S, they generally make two main arguments against it: that it would violate the civil rights of homeless people, criminalize them, and put them in jail; and that the measure would simply move people around and ultimately be ineffective. Although the two positions are contradictory ...."

First, it is in no way contradictory to state that Measure S will infringe on homeless people's civil liberties while also doing nothing more than move them around. More importantly, however, this is an erroneous generalization of our main arguments. While we (and others, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild) do stress the serious civil liberties issue, we have repeatedly emphasized that Measure S is a waste of taxpayer money and police resources — one that will divert police time and resources away from more serious crimes; and we have consistently argued that Berkeley needs real solutions to homelessness, such as expanding shelter and drop-in space and hours, and providing more transitional housing and job opportunities, instead of criminalizing poor people.