BERKELEY (CBS SF) – Berkeley voters have narrowly defeated a controversial measure that would have banned sitting on sidewalks in the city’s commercial areas.

Berkeley’s Measure S was rejected 51 percent to 48 percent with 100 percent of the precincts reporting Tuesday.

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The measure to ban sitting on sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. was proposed as a strategy to reduce what Mayor Tom Bates and other supporters said had become an intractable problem: street people who loiter in front of stores and scare customers away.

“It’s really unfortunate that we have to go to things like a sit ordinance to allow our merchants to be able to feel they can have a civil sidewalk where people come into their stores and want to shop in their stores,” Bates said.

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Opponents said the measure discriminates against people who happen to be poor and that Berkeley already has an ordinance in place that prohibits people from lying on the sidewalk during daytime hours.

“From Berkeley, of all cities, it’s just really disappointing. These are civil rights,” said Mandy Inches, standing up for her interview on Shattuck Avenue.

The measure would have allowed police to issue warnings, with repeat violators fined $75 or ordered to perform community service as well as a possible maximum sentence of six months jail.

Similar laws have been adopted in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Palo Alto and Los Angeles.

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