The Berkeley City Council passed a controversial ordinance late Tuesday night that essentially cracks down on homeless in an effort, the majority of members say, to clean up the city.
There were several ordinances that seemed to target the homeless issue. But the most heated agenda item, number 28, was approved in a 6-3 vote. The law now prohibits people from going to the bathroom in public, limits the use of public space to store personal belongings, prevents shopping carts from being in one spot for more than one hour, and outlaws lying down inside planter beds.
On Wednesday morning, homeless advocates were still sleeping out on the steps of the old city hall. Some said they were thinking of breaking into city administrative buildings to use the bathrooms to make their point.
The no votes came from council members Jesse Arreguin, who is running for mayor and helped stage protests, Max Anderson and Kriss Worthington.
These minority dissenting council members had sided with homeless advocates, some of them who called themselves the "Freedom Sleepers," who camped outside to draw attention to their plight.
Councilmembers also passed Item 27 in an 8-1 vote, which was called “Protecting our Parks from Unsafe, Unsanitary Conditions," and arose after residents complained about dirty needles, homeless encampments and violence at Ohlone Park. Berkeleyside reports that earlier this year, according to the Berkeley Police Department, three drifters charged in October in the murders of a Candadian tourist in San Francisco and a tantra yoga instructor in Marin County spent time in Berkeley and had contact with officers.
Resident John Niles said the park he's lived in for 50 years have been overrun by homeless.
"I'm seeing hypodermic needles," he said. "I'm picking up from the grass and trying to dispose of them daily and I'm seeing heaps of trash."
But the majority of the council, including the mayor, decided that that Item 28 would indeed "Improve Conditions On Our Community Sidewalks," the title of the agenda item.
“We are not trying to criminalize the homeless we are basically saying certain behaviors are unacceptable," council woman Laurie Capitelli said ahead of the meeting.
Mayor Tom Bates agreed that the proposal is not anti-homeless. In fact, there are provisions in the ordinance that would also provide services for those living on the streets.
He and the remaining council members said that the new law would also mandate the city fund the purchase of 50 to100 secure storage bins for the homeless, provide additional bathrooms on Telegraph Avenue and downtown — possibly in conjunction with BART, and provide mobile showers for public use. The bathrooms would be accessible 24/7. The new services are estimated to cost at least $300,000 each year, Berkeleyside reported.
Berkeley, a liberal city that is known, wrote about the dilemma in the agenda item, noting that leaders must weigh the safety of its residents and compassion for those who can't afford basic shelter.
“Berkeley will never be able to provide homes for all of the people who have become needy in our town,” according to the item. “The economic structure of this country is unjust, unfair, and cruel especially to those who have virtually nothing to fall back on or are too ill to care for themselves. As our social fabric erodes around us, literally on a daily basis, we must do everything we can to ensure we remain a humanitarian city and at the same time set a standard for acceptable behavior in our town.”
NBC Bay Area's Lisa Fernandez, Cheryl Hurd and Jodi Hernandez contributed to this report.