A very Berkeley story out of Berkeley this week, as a little restaurant plaza outside the BART station has roped off one area with signage saying “For Customers Only,” and advocates for the homeless population are furious over the move.
If you haven't been to the Downtown Berkeley BART station in a while, you may not realize they put in a nice little plaza back in 2018, and it has some tables and chairs for customers of plaza tenants Ike’s Sandwiches, Almare Gelato, MIXT, Sliver Pizzeria, and Imran and Ali’s Coffee Hut. And if you have been to the Downtown Berkeley BART station lately, you may know that Berkeley has, like other parts of the Bay Area, a homelessness issue.
The two have collided. Last week, the plaza roped off some of that area and put up signs around that area saying “For Customers Only.” (Pictures here and here.) The roped-off area is about 30 feet by 30 feet, which is only a small part of the plaza’s overall footprint. But Berkeley being Berkeley, there is now blowback from advocates saying this arrangement discriminates against homeless people, though the stanchions and ropes were put up because the businesses say they were losing customers over harassment from the homeless population.
“Someone would be sitting over there and enjoying [their drink], and someone would grab their drink and throw it at them,” Imran and Ali’s Coffee Hut co-owner Ali Fayaz told Berkeleyside.
But critics of the arrangement say this discriminates against non-paying customers in a public space. “It’s excluding students that come down to read a book or sit with their friends, people who can’t afford a meal, or an elderly person who just sits there to rest and [is] people watching,” Berkeley Rent Board housing counselor Moni Law complained to Berkeleyside. “There’s a lot of people who make up the character of the town.”
It seems unlikely there will be a larger controversy here. Berkeleyside spoke with Berkeley Police Officer Matt Valle, who told them that no one would be asked to leave the area unless they were being disruptive, and that there are no actual laws on the books saying non-customers cannot enter a public plaza area with a “For Customers Only” sign. That site also notes that, “He added that trespassing reports are not a high priority for Berkeley police.”
Image: @seanyodarouse via Twitter