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San Francisco sidewalk-sitting ban targets homeless: Critics

sanfranciscobaybridgegoldengate San Francisco sidewalk sitting ban targets homeless: CriticsSan Francisco’s lawmakers are debating a proposed law that would ban sitting or lying on sidewalks throughout the city, a move critics say targets the homeless.

The bill brought forward by Mayor Gavin Newsom to the city’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is believed to be the broadest of its kind in the nation, as it would ban anyone from sitting or lying on sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and would apply even in front of one’s own home.

The San Francisco Chronicle notes that the city’s proposed law is based on a similar law in Seattle that has been upheld by appeals courts. But Seattle’s law applies only to specially selected “commercial corridors” where drug addicts or vagrants were interfering with business.

Lawmakers in San Francisco had also mulled a similar law targeting specific areas, but Mayor Newsom’s bill tabled Tuesday goes farther than that.

The Chronicle reports that Newsom had recently moved to the city’s famed Haight-Ashbury district, which has long been a magnet for street kids, the chronically homeless and drug addicts. Newsom was reportedly spurred into action when he and his infant daughter witnessed someone “smoking crack and blocking the entrance of a business.”

But the law is not a pet project of Newsom’s: A recent poll shows fully 71 percent of San Francisco residents support the measure. Even the city’s Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the poll, admitted that the results are surprising given the city’s long history of tolerance towards the indigent, and towards street protests.

San Francisco has been the site of countless street protest actions over the years. In 1979, for example, gay rights supporters sat in the streets in the Castro district to protest the killing of Harvey Milk, the nation’s first openly gay elected official, by a city supervisor.

Two years earlier, residents staged a sit-in at a federal office building demanding rights for the disabled. It was a moment that advocates for the disabled describe as the “Stonewall” or “Selma” for disabled rights.

While the proposed law will likely not infringe on the ability of activists to protest, opponents of the measure say it will noticeably curb freedoms in the city. The NBC affiliate in the Bay Area cites a public defender who believes the law will unfairly target “tourists sitting on the curb while ogling landmarks” and “a woman sitting on her luggage as she waits for the cab.”

But police say they plan to enforce the law judiciously, targeting only those who actually do pose a threat to public safety or commerce.

A recent court ruling has strengthened the city’s argument that such a law would be legitimate. A state superior court ruled on Wednesday that a similar no-sitting law in the San Francisco suburb of Palo Alto can stand.

Panhandler Richard Frost had challenged a series of citations he received for begging for change outside a local supermarket. The judge ruled that the law is constitutional and not discriminatory, contrary to what Frost had argued, the Palo Alto Daily News reports.

But writing at BeyondChron, Tommi Avicolli-Mecca notes that a similar law in Portland was struck down by the courts, and that a similar law in L.A. was ruled “cruel and unusual punishment” if the city didn’t provide enough beds in homeless shelters.

Under the proposed San Francisco law, a first offense would carry a $50 to $100 fine, with the penalty increasing for subsequent violations up to a maximum of 10 days in jail, the San Francisco Examiner reports. The law exempts public parks, plazas and benches.

Writing at Fog City Journal, Greg Kamin argues the proposed law is a back-door that allows police to arrest people without evidence of any crime committed.

Simply put, this law allows cops wide discretion to arrest people for doing basically nothing at all, completely at will. Ominous for its crystal clarity, one particularly Orwellian slide entitled “Customized for Our City” showed a crowd of happy people on the Golden Gate Bridge, with a series of captions about the law including, “Enables Preventative Intervention, Before Accident or Crime Occurs.” To emphasize the point, [assistant police chief Kevin] Cashman said that unlike other laws which focus on criminal acts, this would “prevent a criminal act from occurring in the first place.”

Basically “pre-crime,” like in the movie, Minority Report.

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6 Responses

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  1. woodcut says

    Sitting on the sidewalk shouldn’t be illegal, but on Haight St., we’re constantly harassed for money. If you walk by, some call us “fags” or other names. It’s not enjoyable. / San Francisco resident for 30 years here.
    I’m all for freedom, but I also want to walk down a street without beggars, winos, and freaks making my day difficult.
    ps. I was at Woodstock 1969 & I’ve been a sidewalk hippie. A respectful hippie.

  2. David Martin says

    I agree with Mr. Haze. Respect and common courtesy among the
    homeless is all we ask! If they cannot abide by simple human
    mores throw them in a shelter or jail!

  3. Dark Politricks says

    Whilst I agree with you about the abuse I know from experience that most people who are homeless don’t do it through choice.

    I don’t know how many homeless shelters they have in San Fran but maybe some of the trillion or so the US is spending on wars in Iraq and the Stan could go towards funding some more.

  4. woodcut says

    Sorry, but the old “stop funding war” idea is tired & says nothing to address the problem we’re writing about. Of course war is wasteful, but it’s illogical to think wars will stop & they’ll build a shelter for homeless people.
    Each city must address MENTAL ILLNESS in those on the streets. And the punks who want to use intimidation to get money – I agree – lock them up.
    In San Francisco, there are many places to get FREE food. Housing is harder to get, as shelters are often prone to violence and theft. We have a large number of people who choose to live on the streets, who don’t want assisted living or help. We have some hippies living in Golden Gate Park who never left the 1960’s, but they’re harmless, polite, and clean.

    • darkpolitricks says

      the problem is that any government the US or UK doesn’t want to spend the money to solve the root problems that cause issues like homelessness, crime, high drug use and so on as they are hard problems to solve and take time, money and effort. They would rather try and stick plasters over issues like these with quick headline grabbing ideas that don’t actually solve the problem but just move it to another area where its less visible. Most of the people in our prisons are drug users, ex veterans or people with mental illness. Instead of trying to help these people get back on track with their lives with education, rehab, help with housing and support they lock them up and the release them again some months later, the problem is still there they have just taken it out of view for a while which is a short term mindset. If our government cared they would want to think long term as investment now means benefits for the future but our governments are corrupt and don’t give a fuck about us. However they do care about money, big business and the arms industry and whereas we may never stop wars we can stop wars of aggression that have only exacerbated existing problems and ensured that we will be fighting “terror” for a long time. If our government actually cared about its citizens they would choose to spend money on issues like this over wars for pipelines any day of the week. the fact is they don’t.

  5. woodcut says

    I think we’re on the same team, & agree on most things.
    Gov’t has many “throw-away” ppl – those with mental illness, those who are poor (Katrina proved that), gays (Reagan killed thousands of us by ignoring AIDS), and countless others.
    What’s missing is the outrage from people. We’ve become complacent & we accept the b.s. the Gov’t feeds us = “not enough money to help”.
    Example – SF’s MUNI (bus, subway) is now going thru massive cutbacks. On the bus, ppl are complaining & annoyed. How many of them will write to our Mayor, to MUNI? Very few. A lot of ppl complain but never take action to change things.
    Homeless people suffer so much, but we walk past them. I do. With a beggar on almost every corner, eventually we put up walls and ignore them. Sad, but true.
    ps I like your site, I follow you on Twitter, and wish you the best.

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