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Tempers flare over homeless tent encampment ballot measure

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A tent is seen set up near Division and Brannan streets in San Francisco on June 24, 2016. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco suddenly finds itself sharply divided over whether to place on the November ballot a measure addressing homeless encampments.

A politically charged debate erupted Tuesday during the Board of Supervisors meeting over allegations that, once again, homeless residents are being used by some politicians as an opportunity to score political points.

Polling in The City places homelessness as the No. 1 issue voters are concerned about as the homeless population has seemingly become more visible amid the development boom. Controversy swelled among city leaders and residents earlier this year over the proliferation of encampments along Division Street, resulting in numerous sweeps.

Supervisor Mark Farrell, the moderate politician who represents the Marina and Pacific Heights, is facing mounting pressure from progressive board members and homeless advocates to withdraw the measure he placed on the November ballot last month.

Farrell’s measure would ban tent encampments and authorize The City to remove them with 24-hour notice after offering shelter. Opponents argue The City needs to emphasize housing over enforcement.

Among the opponents is Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who called on his board colleagues to pledge that “for at least one year the board shall not approve additional laws or policies that will underfund or undermine the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.”

“It is a pledge to let Mr. [Jeff] Kositsky [the new director of The City’s homeless department] do his J-O-B — at least for a little while,” Peskin said at the meeting. He also said he would withdraw the ballot measure he introduced in response to Farrell’s.

Kositsky declined to take a position on Farrell’s measure during the meeting. However, he said the department’s mission would be served best by the utmost flexibility.

“One of the things that you all could do to help me is to actually not draw me into political conversations about a policy-related issue,” Kositsky added.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Jane Kim introduced legislation Tuesday to address tent encampments without putting the question to voters.

“This is sound policy, consistent with the fact that permanent exits are the solution to homelessness and clearing encampments alone will not end homelessness in our city,” Kim said of the legislation in an email to the San Francisco Examiner. “I hope to work with my colleagues to make this a measure that is effective policy that will allow us the flexibility to modify it if better practices arise.”

Under Kim’s proposal, The City would need to provide seven-day advance notice before clearing tent encampments, but could clear them sooner if public health hazards are present. Those who are displaced from tent encampments must be guaranteed temporary shelter for at least 90 days, under Kim’s proposal, and during the first 30 days, The City must create a plan for permanent housing.

Farrell remained steadfast in keeping his measure on the ballot.

“We have a duty to push forth policies that we believe in,” Farrell said. “I don’t think an appropriate — from my perspective — policy is going to get through the Board of Supervisors.”

Farrell also refuted the allegation that he advanced the measure as a political wedge issue. “No one is politicizing it unnecessarily,” he said.

While Farrell defended his measure, there was seemingly no escaping the overtones of the 2010 sit-lie campaign that was similarly criticized as a political wedge issue during another pivotal election year.

The sit-lie law, which banned sitting or lying on sidewalks, was recently criticized along with other quality-of-life laws in a recent Budget Analyst report for costing some $20 million in police spending but having no impact in actually addressing the homeless issue.

Peskin argued the ballot should be reserved for raising taxes or city charter amendments, which require voter approval, and only for legislation as “court of last resort.”

With approval of the new homeless department and collaboration to ask voters to generate $50 million annually for homelessness through a sales tax hike, it seemed San Francisco had become more united in addressing the challenge.

But Supervisor John Avalos said the unity was “all thrown away” and has said he won’t support an unrelated tax hike that would go toward homeless services if Farrell’s tent encampment measure remains on the ballot.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who supported placing Farrell’s measure on the ballot along with supervisors Katy Tang and Malia Cohen, opposed Peskin’s pledge.

“That is certainly in the eye of the beholder, in terms of what undermines or doesn’t undermine the department,” Wiener said.

Peskin’s pledge resolution was forwarded to a Board of Supervisors committee for further discussion.

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  • Independent1inSF

    This must be put on the November ballot. It is time to clean SF up. It’s turning into a total dump. The “services treatment” has been tried over and over at a cost of $250 million a year and the problem has gotten worse. SF allows anyone to show up on our streets one day and receive services the next. We should be receiving funds from the federal government. Obviously we can’t house the country’s homeless. Make. It. Stop.

  • Martin

    As in Alcoholics Anonymous: we carry the message, not the mess.

  • BFlatlander

    Here is a fact; No matter what the tax paying voters do, the mentally ill homeless situation in the Bay Area will only become worse. MUCH worse.


  • peanutcrunch

    I don’t believe we are ‘sharply divided’ as the article states. It will pass overwhelmingly–and it should.

  • Lives Lightly

    No one questions whether children who “show up” at a school should receive publicly funded education at no cost. And few question that the education provided should be reasonably designed to meet each child’s needs and abilities. Its a fact that free societies flourish only when they provide the essential needs and desires of people who happen to simply “show up”. The alternative is to assign(by force) who in the short term will live and who will die. IMO no human created method exists to do it in a way that doesn’t result in tyranny and constant conflict that negates the benefits of living in society as opposed to solitary hostile clans and bands at war with each other.

  • 101

    Even if this ballot wins, nothing will change. We have no sit-lie laws, aggressive begging and pandering laws but the police do not enforce them. This is the status acceptance for SF and nothing will change.

  • john doe

    The city should be enforcing a lot of laws already at their disposal. Your right that the city does not want to do a thing. Forcing the voters to enact the anti tent law that the city should just enforce themselves is textbook progressive San Francisco. When the anti tent law becomes city ordinance by vote of the people then the city will have to deal with the pressure of the voters. Now or later the city is going to have to get the tents removed.
    I hope we can organize an anti tent protest properly and have the homeless pitch their tents and urine up in front of city officials homes so they can call 311 like the rest of us.
    I would say to the city that supporting the homeless is actually enabling them into an early grave and that the city is loosing lots of money now that the world sees the issue in SF in the news. I smile knowing that not only are businesses not moving to SF but many are and will be moving FROM SF. Saying the city is a joke is falling on deaf ears but the money is talking a great deal more than city hall can ever deny.
    Yes on the anti tent law!

  • john doe

    It will and should pass. The entertaining part is the city will end up feeding and housing and caring for the vast majority of this countries homeless because city hall is one big enabler. There will be more Navigation “Hotels” then regular homes soon enough. Here ye Here Ye! come one come all! San Francisco is the place to be for free food, free housing, free medical, free cell phone service…Get it all…Free Free Free!

  • john doe

    In SF Yes. Anywhere else no. I find the mentally ill yelling and screaming at their imaginary friends entertaining. Call any SF city agency and of course the layers of bureaucracy make you simply hang up. get some pop corn and a soda and watch them. Its better than HBO

  • john doe

    Many homeless are alcoholics and are a mess. Who you kidding.

  • nopenopenopenopenopenope

    How about this. Ban tents everywhere but in front of city hall and within 100 feet the residences of the current board of supervisors.

  • Randy F.

    …and bad behavior is tolerated , nay , encouraged !

  • Randy F.

    That’s a part of the appeal to tourists , foreign and domestic . They come here to see a ‘ train wreck ‘. Caligula’s Rome . If they do become a casualty [ stray bullets from Eastbay youth gangs near Ruby Skyy ; charges dropped by Kamala the H’ ] of our wild west show , then they get their money$ worth !

  • Randy F.

    How about a bug zapper light ray , in an arena… Like when citizens turned 30 yrs old , in book / movie ‘ Logan’s Run ‘ ? Good fit for the more decadent part of San Francisco’s pateena .

  • Paul Bearer

    A ballot measure for something that is already illegal

    This city is run by morons.

  • Paul Bearer

    A ballot measure for something that is already illegal.

    This city is run by morons.

  • EllaFitzbunbun

    Sad but true. How any of them could possibly think that throwing another fifty million at the problem is going to solve it beats the helloutta me. Considering the fact that currently over two hundred & fifty million a yr. is already being spent and the situation continues to worsen, this is completely insane. SF voters need to pull their heads out of their hineys and stop voting for “progressives” who seem to think it’s a great idea to welcome endless numbers of certain types of people with open arms; people who rely on gov’t. services while contributing little to nothing. I fail to see anything progressive in their ideology.

  • EllaFitzbunbun

    Not to mention another country’s homeless.