Merchants seek scaled-back sit-lie ordinance

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Businesses have asked Mayor Gavin Newsom to scale back the controversial sit-lie legislation so it applies only to commercial districts where merchants say loitering is most problematic.

In March, the mayor proposed a citywide sit-lie ordinance, which would make it illegal to sit or lie on San Francisco sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., with 30-day jail sentences and $500 fines for repeat offenders.

Sitting on blankets and fold-up chairs on sidewalks also would be illegal. The proposed law would give police officers new powers to tackle problems with chronic loiterers.

Earlier this month, the Planning Commission voted 6-1 to oppose the legislation.

On Monday, the Small Business Commission voted unanimously to recommend limiting the citywide ordinance to commercial districts, Commissioner Janet Clyde said.

“This behavior is most prevalent in the commercial districts,” said Clyde, who owns the North Beach bar Vesuvio. “The intent is to target people who are sitting in the commercial districts camped out. The thought is [to apply the ordinance] to the commercial districts first, then we can see if it addresses the problem.”

After all, it was merchants who prodded politicians to deal with the proliferation of people and dogs -lingering on city sidewalks.

A recent poll conducted by the Chamber of Commerce showed that among 500 San Francisco voters, roughly 71 percent said they support a sit-lie ordinance, 24 percent were opposed and 5 percent said they didn’t know.

But whether or not voters support the idea, it’s city supervisors who have the final say. The mayor has said if they do not sign off on legislation he will work to put a sit-lie measure on the November ballot, said Tony Winnicker, Newsom’s spokesman.

“We are eager for the debate to happen at the Board of Supervisors as soon as possible so we can give police tools to deal with this behavior,” Winnicker said.

Kent Uyehara, who owns FTC Skateboarding in the Haight, said he believes limiting the law to commercial districts will make the legislation a better sell as it heads to the Board of Supervisors in early May. Opponents of sit-lie have said the ordinance would be ineffective and unfairly target homeless people.

“If it’s presented just for commercial districts it obviously will be easier to get people to agree,” Uyehara said.

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

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