Getting fined for gummed up sidewalks in the Tenderloin

It’s no secret that San Francisco has used the Tenderloin as a containment zone for homelessness and drug use for decades.

It’s starting to feel like San Francisco has a problem with its priorities. I was recently notified about one of the most absurd things I’ve heard in a long time.

Summer Shannon is the property manager of a residential building in the Tenderloin. She’s lived in the building for many years, has an art gallery in the basement, and takes care of anything that goes wrong inside and in front of it. As she put it on Twitter: “I power wash human feces (clean up blood, needles, and crazy-person freak-out garbage piles) from in front of my building in the Tenderloin EVERYDAY.”

Yet the City and County of San Francisco served her building a notice of violation stating that unless she cleaned the “grime and/or gum stains” from the sidewalk in front within seven days, and maintained it that way, the property owner would get fined $1,000.

To say she was flabbergasted would be an understatement. So she took to Twitter with the above statement, and attached photo of the notice, and continued with “Stop generating revenue instead of fixing the problem! This is extortion.”

Of course Twitter did it’s thing and a hoopla ensued. KTVU stopped by to do a segment on the issue and Right Wing trolls on the internet used it as an opportunity to trash San Francisco and its liberal policies.

I’ve known Summer, and her boyfriend Ken Newman for a number of years through the arts and through activism. Ken has a non-profit called Blanket the Homeless which is a Bay Area charity “dedicated to improving the day to day experience of people living on the street.” And Summer recently held a fundraiser for the organization at her gallery. So these are not the kind of people who blame the homeless for their situation and scream that they should be locked up. In fact it’s the opposite.

“The homelessness crisis is complex, and that’s not what I’m complaining about,” Summer told me over the phone. “I’m complaining about the city condensing and compounding the homelessness into the Tenderloin, and then not giving us the resources to deal with. And then on top of it, fining us for it!”

It’s no secret that San Francisco has used the Tenderloin as a containment zone for homelessness and drug use for decades, even if City Hall won’t admit to it on record. When Summer recently called the police because a man chased her down the street brandishing a fist full of needles, the police said “Welcome to Living in a containment zone” before driving away.

“We deal with an apocalypse of nonsense in the Tenderloin, like people making garbage angels in piles of trash, and shitting in between cars,” Summer went on to explain. “There’s a lot of mental illness. There’s one woman in the neighborhood who, every time she finds a container of something, dumps it all over herself and walks around that way. Recently she’d covered herself in roofing tar and dripped it everywhere. That’s what the city thought was gum.”

Because The City condenses the problem into the Tenderloin but doesn’t give the neighborhood the resources to deal with it, property managers and local businesses do their best to tackle it themselves. Summer recently bought an industrial power washer and has been paying some of the neighborhood street people to pitch in to keep the area clean. But even with these efforts it seems The City gets in the way.

On trash day the building owners and property managers put their bins out at 6 a.m., but Recology often doesn’t come by to collect it until 4 p.m. so someone has to stand guard over the garbage. And while part of it is to make sure folks don’t rummage through it and throw all the refuse on the sidewalk, they also need to make sure passersby aren’t throwing the wrong thing in the wrong bin. Summer informs me that “if someone puts a turd bag in the compost, I get fined $2,800.”

It appears that a large part of the problem rests in the fact that city agencies aren’t talking to each other. Summer says that even though they are in talks with Recology on how to solve the issue, DPW inspectors will still roll by and give them fines.

I contacted Rachel Gordon from the Department of Public Works for the department’s take on it and she said, “The law says that property owners need to take care of gum and grime, but the TL is obviously a more challenging neighborhood than others.”

She added “ We don’t want to give fines, we want to partner with the community to get the city cleaned up. Hopefully our outreach and enforcement team will reach back out to her so they can work together.”

Gordon also said, “The garbage service is a Recology issue. And in many cases people can set up a lock service for their trash cans or an inside the building service.”

Meanwhile, Summer said with a laugh that there’s been another byproduct of her taking her battle public. “Right Wing candidates like Ellen Lee Zhou have started knocking on my door asking for my support.”

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at and join his mailing list at He is a guest columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.

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