Move over Clinton Park boulders, you’ve got competition.
While weeks ago a series of boulders planted just off Market Street as a tit-for-tat between housed residents and homeless neighbors gained citywide and national attention, a similar but quieter battle over a public street raged in the sleepy Ingleside neighborhood.
On Clinton Park, neighbors installed boulders to wall off the homeless.
In the Ingleside, they took a note from Trump and built a literal, actual wall.
Hostile architecture isn’t new, but it’s seemingly spreading in San Francisco. And it ain’t just spikes in front of businesses now, or slanted benches downtown. Those have been around.
No, dear readers, in the Lord’s Year of 2019, its now homeowners and renters alike banding together in San Francisco to ensure living on the streets is harsher and colder than ever before.
The location in question is a narrow walkway from Ocean Avenue to Urbano Street in the Ingleside. It is, perhaps unoriginally, called “Ingleside Path.” While it didn’t begin life as a public street, its use as a frequent neighborhood route eventually granted it status as a public easement in The City’s legal nomenclature.
But when unhoused neighbors started using it, nearby homeowners and merchants boarded it up with plywood and other materials, hammering nails like Wile E. Coyote preparing a blockade for the Roadrunner.
And — wouldn’t you know it? — city records reveal neighbors had permission from San Francisco Public Works, and some additional research from Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee, to do so.
Neighbors are in stark disagreement over the street.
In emails to The City I obtained in a public records request, homeowners living near Ingleside Pathway describe, frankly, a nightmare.
One family, which includes a 2-year-old son and 6-month-old daughter, found themselves shocked awake at night by “screaming, swearing, fighting” in the pathway, have found “needles in our front yard” and have had their shed broken into by people they claimed were homeless, and who gained access to their yard from Ingleside Pathway.
And the owner of a nail salon on Ocean Avenue, Tom Pan, told me the pathway is the last refuge of nearby unhoused people.
“They come in here, they pee there, they poo there. Every day,” he told me by phone. “The police cannot do anything, it’s dirty and disgusting. In the summertime on a hot day, I can’t even open my window because of the smell.”
OK folks, it’s true, the situation does sound like hell. You’ve gotta have sympathy for those neighbors.
Still, this “solution” brings up its own problems.
When does boarding up and bouldering up sidewalks end?
This could spread. And I’m not the only one fearful of that.
In emails to Public Works staffers, a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency staffer brought this up as well.
“Our concerns are still more policy-driven,” SFMTA city traffic engineer Ricardo Olea wrote to Public Works Commercial Permit Manager Gregory Slocum. “We’re going to be closing all streets and paths to the public that have crime concerns? Why not now vacate the path and give it to the private property owners to maintain since nobody else will use it? What is the public benefit of having the path maintained by the city but not accessible to anyone?”
Ricardo ended by saying “I know these are not questions for you to resolve, so our Directors should probably be talking about this at that level.”
City leaders are talking about it. But mostly, they’re helping to enable closing off public rights-of-way in favor of housed neighbors.
In late September, when Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru addressed reporters (and this columnist) after temporarily removing the Clinton Park boulders, he said neighbors could replicate the effort anywhere in The City.
And emails I obtained show Supervisor Yee’s aide, Ivy Lee, in contact with Public Works to figure out the right-of-way concerns.
Could the neighbors and merchants block off the alley? Lee met with the City Attorney’s Office to determine that, in a meeting she described in an August email. By September 25, the neighbors had boarded up the pathway with permission from Public Works, documents show.
By October 4, after complaints from other neighbors arrived, the boards were torn right back down. But that’s far from the end of this.
Neighbors and merchants are seeking to permanently place an iron gate to close off the pathway with permission from The City.
Yet as another Ingleside neighbor, Will Walraven told me, boarding up the pathway isn’t the only answer.
The City must balance the quality-of-life concerns with the public’s access to the right-of-way, he said.
“I grew up exploring the neighborhood, and the delightfulness of how it used to be, where you could walk these beautiful pathways and watch them present themselves,” the San Francisco native told me.
He lives nearby and had similar problems on a similar walkway that borders his home.
Uber drivers consistently tried to drive into the too-small walkway and found themselves stuck. And yes, folks made a ruckus in the alley, too.
But Walraven licked his problem with a far more humane solution than walling off the pathway: He lit it up.
He installed floodlights along his home, which shone a spotlight on the walkway. And, he said, what if The City ponied up a few dollars to add benches and other features that made it welcoming?
More people walking the pathway means less misdeeds.
“Why not beautify it?” Walraven said. “It could be a point of pride, versus what it is now — neglected.”
When I asked Yee’s aide, Lee, if the supervisor would support “activating” a space as Walraven had asked, she said it was possible. “The Supervisor is happy to support activation of any spaces that are currently serving as possible magnets for criminal activity – in fact, he is the one who spearheaded the idea of cameras for small businesses and neighborhood commercial corridors in the district and made sure that there would be actual funding made available for purchasing and installing cameras.”
And you know what else The City might do to prevent people from defecating in the alleyway?
Installing a public restroom on Ocean Avenue might help, for a start.
But that isn’t The City’s way right now.
Their solution is all stick, no carrot — and no heart.
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.