The days of San Francisco’s tolerance for public nudity appear to be about over.
Members of the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee voted 3-0 Monday to advise their colleagues on the full Board of Supervisors to approve legislation banning public nudity on city streets, sidewalks and plazas.
Amid complaints from business owners and residents of the Castro, Supervisor Scott Wiener recently authored legislation that builds on a similar ban in place for public parks. A majority of supervisors are expected to support the ban.
But the divisive proposal has prompted soul-searching questions about San Francisco’s identity, such as whether tolerating nudity on public streets is intrinsically tied to what makes The City a destination for visitors and a leader on social causes.
For about two hours Monday, a seemingly equal split of ban supporters and opponents testified before the committee, where Wiener was joined by his moderate supervisorial colleagues Sean Elsbernd and Carmen Chu.
Castro resident Desmond Perrotto lamented that the ban is another step toward “normalizing our city, which has always stood out for being different.”
One woman disrobed during her testimony in protest, chanting “Down with Wiener!” She was escorted out by sheriff’s deputies for violating the board’s rules.
Public nudity is not banned under state law, leaving local municipalities to decide how they want to regulate the practice. Wiener’s proposal would ban nudity on sidewalks, plazas, parklets and public transit, but create an exemption for street fairs, festivals and parades. Violators would face fines of up to $500.
Ban backers say nudity has gotten out of control, impacting businesses and making it uncomfortable for parents with children.
“I would just like to be able to walk down the street and buy a carton of milk without seeing someone’s penis,” said mother and Castro resident Sheila Tenney. “That’s it.”
Wiener sought to debunk the idea that the proposal stemmed from special-interest groups or people not in step with the Castro’s gay community.
“Some have suggested that this legislation resulted from straight people invading the Castro, or people from Noe Valley objecting to nudity, or more people raising children in the Castro, or vocal business owners,” Wiener said. “It’s not the case.”
Wiener said the “dominant demographic” of people supporting the ban is gay men.
While it appears Wiener’s legislation will pass at the board’s vote Nov. 20, he may face critics from his more left-leaning colleagues. Supervisor David Campos said he was “still trying to understand” why the legislation was needed and “why this is a priority.”
“I haven’t seen anything that rises to the level of why we needed a law,” Campos said.