Berkeley voters will soon decide whether the city that spawned the Free Speech Movement should bar people from sitting on sidewalks.
The Berkeley City Council voted 6-3 early Wednesday to place the proposed ban on the Nov. 6 ballot despite rowdy protests from opponents.
The proposed ordinance would prohibit sitting on city sidewalks in commercial areas from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Similar laws have been adopted in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Palo Alto and Los Angeles.
If approved, the law would go into effect in July 2013, giving the city time to figure out how to punish violators.
Mayor Tom Bates and other backers say the large numbers of homeless people sitting on sidewalks outside stores and restaurants is hurting business. The ordinance is meant to make the city's business districts more shopper-friendly.
There was a a full house inside the council chambers to debate the proposed ordinance Tuesday night.
Protesters pinned small plastic chairs on their clothing to show their opposition to the proposed ban.
Opponents argued the proposed ban discriminates against the homeless. Those people are concerned that there will be selective enforcement by police.
"They're going to cite someone who appears impoverished over a person that doesn't," said Thomis Skotarek of Berkeley.
On busy Telegraph Avenue late Tuesday afternoon, one protester held up a sign against the ban while three others sat on the sidewalk.
"The sidewalks belong to the people," said protester Nick Frabasilio. "We have a right to use them however we want."
Protesters targeted the head shop called Annapurna, asking people to boycott it because they say the owner supports the ban.
But the shop's manager said the owner hasn't taken a position.
"The voters can decide. It's not up to us," said Annapurna manager Rachel Cheroues.
Other merchants said a ban is needed because some people sitting on the sidewalk are disruptive and intimidate customers.
"People tell us they don't come to Telegraph as much anymore. Telegraph Avenue is where my business is and they don't like the sidewalk sitting," said Craig Becker, business owner and member of the Telegraph Business Improvement District.
Berkeley already has a law on the books that prohibits lying down on sidewalks, but police say only about a dozen people have been cited since 2010.
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