San Francisco parks closure passes; homeless advocates worry about criminalization 

click to enlarge Washington Square Park
  • Mike Koozmin/the S.F. Examiner
  • The Board of Supervisors approved new legislation that will close parks at night.
Despite strong opposition by homeless advocates — who last week even organized an overnight sleep-in at Dolores Park in protest — San Francisco’s parks will officially be closed to the public nightly past midnight.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Scott Wiener said his legislation, which was supported by Recreation and Park Department head Phil Ginsburg and Police Chief Greg Suhr, was meant to curb rampant vandalism and dumping in the parks that Wiener said happens exclusively at night and costs The City about $1 million annually.

But while Wiener said closing parks citywide between midnight and 5 a.m. wasn’t about criminalizing homelessness, opponents such as the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness disagreed. They say no matter the intention, the new law will have an adverse impact on the many people who use open spaces for a safe haven — specifically women and LGBT people who sometimes face criticism in the shelter system.

There are an estimated 6,000 homeless people sleeping outside on any given night in San Francisco and 1,339 in shelter beds.

“There’s laws against sleeping and camping, there’s laws against sitting, there’s laws against lying, there’s laws against obstructing the sidewalk, there’s laws against trespassing,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness. “There’s a whole host of laws that are used against homeless people, and this is yet another. And when these things pass, you end up creating a lot of political resentment toward homeless people.”

The 6-5 vote Tuesday — with supervisors David Campos, John Avalos, Jane Kim, Eric Mar and London Breed in opposition — illustrated the political divide that persists on the Board of Supervisors.

Mar blasted the legislation as “mean-spirited.”

“It will impact so many human beings that have nowhere to go,” he said. “I want us to have a heart as a Board of Supervisors.”

But Wiener said park vandalism is “demoralizing” for park employees and residents who work to improve conditions.

“It happens on a regular basis and it happens at night,” Wiener said, adding that the closure hours “are significantly narrower than most other cities” and that there are already laws on the books prohibiting sleeping and camping overnight in parks.

Supervisor Norman Yee, who represents the largely single-family homeowner neighborhoods west of Twin Peaks, said the closure hours will benefit small neighborhood parks with playgrounds. He backed the proposal after amending it to require annual reporting of enforcement.

“We must send a strong message,” Yee said. “The City must keep our neighborhood parks clean and safe.”

Suhr said the closure would give police officers probable cause to make contact with someone they see in a park.

But the new law, according to Breed, will result in homeless people sleeping on doorsteps in the neighborhoods she represents, such as the Haight.

“That would be worse for the neighborhoods and the homeless,” Breed said.

She also objected to how Ginsburg has said nothing good happens in parks at night. “There are some perfectly legitimate reasons to use the parks at night,” Breed countered.

The San Francisco Parks Alliance and Laborers’ Local 261, the labor union representing park workers, both support the new law.

Use of streets and sidewalks adjacent to parks is still permitted during closure hours. People also can stroll through plazas such as Union Square, Civic Center and Justin Herman.

Violators could receive a citation of $100 or steeper penalties such as misdemeanors.

HOW THEY VOTED

Supervisors approved park closures between midnight and 5 a.m. A yes vote supported the closure; a no vote opposed the proposal.

DISTRICT 1, Eric Mar: NO

DISTRICT 2, Mark Farrell: YES

DISTRICT 3, David Chiu: YES

DISTRICT 4, Katy Tang: YES

DISTRICT 5, London Breed: NO

DISTRICT 6, Jane Kim: NO

DISTRICT 7, Norman Yee: YES

DISTRICT 8, Scott Wiener: YES

DISTRICT 9, David Campos: NO

DISTRICT 10, Malia Cohen: YES

DISTRICT 11, John Avalos: NO

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Wednesday, Dec 17, 2014

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