A law that would make it illegal to sit or lie down on public sidewalks has been mostly welcomed by Haight Street residents, but today the debate goes to City Hall, where it’s more like a political powder keg.
The law is an effort to prevent loitering, and it’s been adopted in cities such as Berkeley and Seattle. Some of the most outspoken advocates along Haight Street say in the past few months, people who hang out on the sidewalks have become more violent.
Police Chief George Gascón is pulling for the ordinance, calling it a valuable tool, and now it has the backing of Mayor Gavin Newsom, who will introduce two versions of the ordinance Tuesday.
One version would allow police throughout The City to move or cite anyone loitering on the sidewalk, and the other would only be focused on small areas of San Francisco, like the Haight.
Newsom objected to critics who say the law targets homeless people.
“It’s not a homeless debate as much as it is a human debate,” Newsom said. “The vast majority of people this would affect aren’t even homeless.”
But Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who represents the Haight neighborhood, called a hearing today to “demystify” effects of the law. Opponents say such laws don’t work and unjustly penalize homeless people. The law has come under legal scrutiny in places such as Palo Alto.
Pierre Jordan, an 18-year resident of the Haight, said he was a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union, but he was more than willing to sacrifice some civil liberties to help officers police the area.
“When you feel that, when I’m just walking back to my house at night, if I make a mistake or say the wrong thing to a group of kids, they might attack me, that’s when it crosses the line,” Jordan said.
Beat Officer Brett Kaczmarczyk, who has patrolled the Haight for six years, said a sit-lie ordinance would allow him to move people along without merchants having to complain.
“If you don’t stay on top of it, you could be walking through 20 homeless people at a time,” Kaczmarczyk said. “And in spring and summertime, the tidal wave comes.”
But for an 18-year-old homeless woman originally from Minnesota, who only gave the name Skii, the proposed law sounds mean-spirited. Skii was sitting in front of a burned-out restaurant holding a sign that asked for passers-by to smile.
“A lot of people who walk by don’t seem to mind, like it’s part of the culture,” she said. “Other people don’t recognize that someone’s a human being. Either way, you can’t make homelessness illegal.”
The debate continues before the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee meeting at 10 this morning in Room 250 at City Hall.