Clinic Study Details How Business Districts Target Homeless People

(BERKELEY LAW) Andrew Cohen, October 21, 2018 — The first major study of California’s Business Improvement Districts shows that they are increasingly targeting homeless people and excluding them from public spaces.

Conducted by Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic on behalf of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, the study details how BIDs have proliferated with little oversight, sometimes violate California law, and infringe on homeless people’s legal rights.

A popular urban revitalization tool, BIDs are public-private financing entities that serve the interests of business and property owners. Usually located in downtown areas with a heavy business concentration, California BIDs collect and spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually—some of which comes from taxpayers through publicly owned property.

“Like other urban renewal efforts, BIDs were supposed to help fill the government resource and service void,” says clinic Faculty Director Jeffrey Selbin. “But researchers and policymakers have paid little attention to the rise of BIDs and their actual influence on municipal and state affairs.”

The study found that BIDs use their expanded power and resources to advocate for policies and engage in policing practices aimed at driving homeless people out of their districts. That includes efforts to enact, preserve, and bolster laws that punish activities such as sitting, resting, and sleeping that homeless people need to do in public.

“This groundbreaking study is a much needed resource since the state does not even bother to track BIDs, how much money they spend, from what sources, and for what purposes,” Western Regional Advocacy Project Executive Director Paul Boden said in a statement. He added that BIDs seek “to erase from cities any sign of vast inequality while at the same time perpetuating it.”

The study was released today at coordinated press conferences in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Sacramento, and Portland.