Hayward Moves Ahead With Regulations On Free Food Sharing

Portuguese Park on C Street, one of the sites
of free food sharing events in Hayward.

HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL//FOOD SHARING | Despite an uproar Tuesday night from homeless advocates over the Hayward City Council’s attempt to regulate outdoor food sharing programs for the poor, the council showed little sign of turning afoot on the ordinances and instead requested stronger language to reinforce the ordinances’ regulatory powers.

The council backed the ordinance arguing it would help improve the downtown area and make it a safer place to do business. The matter will return for the Oct. 15 council meeting. However, some admitted to the ordinance’s unlikely ability to address the issues it claims to deal with such as litter, public defecation and civilian harassment. “It is a feel good ordinance, it shows we are trying to do something,” said Councilmember Greg Jones, despite offering ardent support for the ordinances. Jones argues that no ordinance passed would be a total solution to any problem but emphasized that businesses were leaving downtown because of issues related to the “transient population.”

Councilmember Marvin Peixoto gave an honest criticism as well, but with far less favor for the ordinance. “These ordinances come off in a punitive way,” said Peixoto. “I’m not sure these ordinances are going to do what they intend to do. One of the things it is trying to avoid is unsanitary conditions yet we haven’t even talked about the bathrooms or wash basins,” said Peixoto.

Advocates from the faith based and homeless advocate community argued the ordinance was a smokescreen to show as if the city was doing something to address business related troubles in downtown without actually solving the core issues of poverty and homelessness.

Jones on free food-sharing regulations:
“It is a feel good ordinance, it shows
we are trying to do something,”

Homeless advocates have long argued for an indoor permanent location to serve the homeless and poor’s needs which has been an ongoing discussion for years. However, no concrete plan has been established to ascertain a location by the city. Homeless advocates argued for partnership between the city and themselves to find a location rather than pass any ordinance that they say criminalizes the needy.

“I am asking you to postpone any decision for awhile on these ordinances while we really look at the issue and define a site we can do indoor feeding,” said Stephen Mullin, parish director of All Saint’s Church in Hayward. ”We can bring together many great resources to provide for those in need. I know this ordinance is in good faith for the business community but it seems to criminalize charity.”

Sara Lamnin, Director of the South Hayward Parish, further argued the ordinances would do nothing to solve illegal dumping or defecation and have no direct link to the feeding programs. She argued for a permanent location as a significant solution to address said issues.

A few business owners argued for the ordinance such as Ben Schweng, owner of Cyclepath on Foothill Boulevard, who showed photos of feces outside of his business and a photo of a bite mark on his bicep from a transient on meth. In a letter to council, Schweng claimed, “Downtown Hayward is neither safe nor clean and residents deserve better. Even transient in downtown costs money for firefighters and police. Every “free” dollar of food downtown costs the city and downtown merchants at least $100.”

The two ordinances discussed Tuesday was one that required a permit for homeless advocacy groups to conduct an outdoor food sharing event and another to regulate the hours which these programs could occur between sunrise and sunset. The permitting process would not occur until after the first 12-month pilot program if the ordinances are voted in at a later date and instead would require a refundable deposit.

Despite this, much of the council argued for the ordinance while also advocating for a permanent location to serve the needy. Councilmembers Mark Salinas, Barbara Halliday and Francisco Zermeno, who will all be running for mayor next year, argued for a more concrete solution However, each offered support for the ordinances.

“We need to balance interests and protect the quality of life,” Halliday said, “We do have a downtown neighborhood and we do hear from them so this ordinance is to address them and do something to reserve quality of life.” Mayor Michael Sweeney, backed by his council, asked staff to broaden the permitting policy to all city parks not just downtown and details on how often an event can be held.

Shane Bond is an East Bay Citizen contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Shane_Bond_.

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