Back in March 2008, the Mayor’s Office convened the San Francisco Streets and Neighborhoods Workgroup to make recommendations for improving the quality of life in The City. Members of the group included then-police Chief Heather Fong, Supervisor Bevan Dufty, Chamber of Commerce President Steve Falk and Coalition on Homelessness Executive Director Jennifer Friedenbach. This collection of 18 A-list leaders released their report in January 2009. Among their recommendations (though Friedenbach objected): "Establish zone[s] where sitting or lying on the sidewalk is not allowed during business hours."
So what happened? The group’s recommendations also called for more public restrooms and benches, substance abuse treatment funding and a drop-in shelter open 24/7. My guess is that the budget crunch put those carrots on hold, so the sit-lie stick never got implemented either.
Portland, Ore., tried a similar holistic approach to the issue of scary street punks — some calling themselves "Road Warriors" — who my friend broadly refers to as "fauxmeless." According to Sandra McDonough, president of the Portland Business Alliance, that city’s sit-lie law was part of a larger package of reforms. She told me Portland partnered with businesses to fund bathrooms, seating and a couple of temporary day shelters. The police only gave out a handful of citations, she said, and mostly used the sit-lie law as a tool to engage people and direct them to services, or ask them to move along or go sit on a bench.
In 2009, Portland’s sit-lie law was nullified because it conflicted with Oregon law prohibiting disorderly conduct. How has the city fared since then, even though the restrooms, benches and shelters remain?
"A huge problem has returned. We’re trying to figure out what to do," McDonough said.
I spoke with Joe D’Alessandro, president of San Francisco’s Convention and Visitors Bureau (who used to work at the Portland visitors bureau), about the possibility of a sit-lie law in San Francisco. Not surprisingly, he said The City’s bureau receives "far more complaints about the frightening street scene than any other issue. Far more!"
I asked him whether he would support a sit-lie law if Mistermayor put it on the November ballot.
"While the bureau doesn’t generally weigh in on political issues, as a resident, I would support the law," he said. "People have just had it."
Between service cuts, fare increases and feisty finger-pointing between the union and management (message from civilians: Stop wasting your time, we think you’re both a problem), even Muni hates Muni right now. Such a sad state prompted one lovable local, Walter Paulson, to weigh in on the issue at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, where he serenaded the room with his own version of "Mustang Sally."
Mustang Muni now,
Gotta slow that Fast Pass price down,
Mustang Muni now,
Gonna slow that bus price down,
You’ve been driving all over town,
just like a money bloodhound
Muni suffered another major loss recently when spokesman Judson True announced that he will be leaving his post to serve as a legislative aide to Board of Supervisors President David Chiu. I asked True for a quote on the matter. I was hoping he’d say something like, "I’m switching because, say what you want about David Chiu, he doesn’t kill people."
But True (who’s single) simply said, deadpan, "I’m leaving to spend more time with myself. I might read ‘Ulysses.’"
In other news this week ...
Secretive right up until the last minute, state Attorney General Jerry Brown’s Web site on Monday claimed he was going to make a "special announcement" Tuesday. Really. As if it would be about anything but the governor’s race. Part of me hoped he would get up and say, "Ladies and gentlemen, I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico." Or, "My fellow Californians, we have found Carmen Sandiego!" It was, of course, his announcement that’s he’s running for governor. (Sigh.) I hope his strategy gets better from here.
For the 753rd meeting in a row, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi gave his speech about how we absolutely must know how much money is spent on security for elected officials. The board voted to put the measure on the June 8 ballot. An idea for the November ballot? Mandatory disclosure of the amount paid to Legislative Chamber security officers who have to stand around while Mirkarimi pontificates week after week on this subject.
"This guy is out of control — Chief Gascón. He does not believe that he is accountable to the Police Commission, he thinks that legislators should not do his job ... [that] we shouldn’t talk about how the chief of police should run his department in terms of staffing patterns or what not. He is a loose cannon out on his own ... [and] I think it’s about time that we talk to Chief Gascón about San Francisco values and say, ‘If you want to honor and respect San Francisco values, there’s a place for you here. And if you don’t, find the next job somewhere else.’"
— Local loose-cannon expert Supervisor Chris Daly, at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. A friend immediately proposed a way to balance the city budget: "a Daly-Gascón death match. How much would you pay?" I offered up my VHS collection and a kidney.