Berkeley Drops Anti-Solicitation, Anti-Sitting Laws;
Council's Vote Will Settle ACLU Class Action Lawsuit
For Immediate Release:
May 14, 1997 SAN FRANCISCO --
In a move applauded by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern
California and other advocates for the rights of the poor, the City
of Berkeley City Council has agreed to repeal its controversial ordinances
that prohibited sitting and peaceful solicitation on the streets of
The Council's action will end the federal class-action lawsuit filed
by the ACLU-NC in 1995 challenging the two municipal ordinances that
criminalized peaceful solicitation of money and sitting or lying on
ACLU-NC Managing Attorney Alan Schlosser, who argued the case before
the U.S. District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, applauded
the City Council's decision. "The
First Amendment guarantees that all people, poor and rich alike, have
the right to publicly express their beliefs and ask for help and financial
support of others for their cause or for themselves," he
"A law that makes the panhandler sitting silently with a sign a
criminal is a law that has gone beyond constitutional limits,"
Schlosser said. "Especially at a time when laws targeting the poor
and homeless criminalize peaceful sidewalk activities are proliferating
throughout the Bay Area, Berkeley's move is especially forward-thinking
Attorney James B. Chanin, spokesperson for the Berkeley-Albany-Richmond-Kensington
Chapter of the ACLU-NC, noted the commitment and activism of many in
the community were responsible for the change in the Berkeley laws.
"This result could not have happened without the combined efforts
of numerous community organizations and totally committed individuals
who were determined to do something to try and reverse a tide of repressive
legislation against poor people that has swept the nation over the last decade," Chanin said. "We are pleased that these laws will
no longer add to the misery of poor people, and will allow community
organizations access to the streets of Berkeley without fear of police
harassment and criminal prosecution."
The suit, Berkeley Community Health Project (also known as the Berkeley
Free Clinic) et al. v. City of Berkeley, was filed on February 27, 1995
-- two days before the laws were to go into effect -- on behalf of the
Berkeley clinic; Copwatch; the Green Party; and Toni Catano and Chris
Stanley, indigent, physically disabled individuals who because of their
disabilities need to sit on the sidewalk when they ask for charity from
The City Council repealed in entirety the ordinance prohibiting sitting
and lying on sidewalks; it also repealed the sections of the anti-solicitation
ordinance that prohibited solicitation after dark, within six feet of
a building and from persons exiting or entering automobiles. The revised
ordinance now only prohibits soliciting in a "threatening"
or "coercive" manner and within ten feet of an ATM machine.
The settlement also provides $110,000 in payment to the ACLU for attorneys'
"People have a right to walk on the sidewalks of Berkeley without
being intimidated or threatened," explained Schlosser. "The
ACLU has never opposed narrowly drafted ordinances that punish intimidation,
or obstruction or trespass. However, city laws should not be used as
a tool to silence the voices of the poor who rely on charity to help
them survive or to move poor people out of the downtown area because
of their appearance."
"We hope that this victory will stop other cities from singling
out poor people and grassroots organizations for discriminatory restrictions
on their fundamental right of free speech," said attorney Harry
Bremond of Wilson, Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a Palo Alto law firm
that served as ACLU cooperating counsel. "As our economic problems
refuse to abate, and the numbers of poor continue to rise, more and
more cities are passing laws which criminalize poverty by punishing
people simply for doing the things they have to do in order to survive,"
said Bremond, noting the recent passage of anti-begging or sitting laws
in Palo Alto, San Jose and Santa Cruz.
After the filing of the lawsuit, both ordinances were originally enjoined
by U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken in May, 1995; the City appealed
the preliminary injunction against the anti-solicitation ordinance to
the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On December 9, 1996 ACLU-NC Managing
Attorney Alan Schlosser argued before a three-judge panel of the Ninth
Circuit that because Berkeley's anti-soliciting ordinance limits the
protected First Amendment activities of poor people and grass root organizations,
the injunction barring its enforcement should remain in place. At the
time of the settlement, a decision was pending. The appeal will now
be dismissed as moot.
The ACLU-NC suit was litigated by Schlosser, Berkeley attorneys James
B. Chanin and Osha Neumann and cooperating attorneys Harry Bremond,
Sarah Harrington, Sandy Roth, Joanne Scully and James Yoon of Wilson,
Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati.