Griffin: Things to keep in mind about sit-lie

In December 2009, KPIX (Ch. 5) did a story about “serial inebriates” in the Haight who were becoming more “threatening, territorial and psychotic.” At the time, police Capt. Teresa Barrett said that the Police Department was looking at how other jurisdictions deal with the same problem and saw that Tacoma, Wash., and Berkeley each have laws against sitting or lying down on public sidewalks.

Later, police Chief George Gascón and Mistermayor each came out in favor of a sit-lie law, but when most members of the Board of Supervisors said they’d vote it down, Mistermayor put it on the Nov. 2 ballot as Proposition L.

Specifically, Prop. L would make it a misdemeanor for people (after a warning) to sit or lie down on public sidewalks between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. The law contains exceptions for people legitimately in wheelchairs, parade onlookers and other folks who might need to occupy a sidewalk for a short period of time. It does not apply to parks, benches or private property.

For many of us, deciding how to vote on this is not easy. And so, I give you four things you should know about Prop. L.

1. Remember that, in order to become law, Prop. L has to do more than get a majority of the votes. It has to get more votes than Proposition M (mandating foot patrols) because of a provision put into Prop. M by Supervisor David Chiu.

2. Back in 1994, then-Mayor Frank Jordan put a sit-lie measure on the ballot and it failed by fewer than 3,000 votes. The arguments for and against the sit-lie law in 1994 are eerily similar to the ones flying around today, including this one: We have adequate laws on the books, it’s just that police aren’t enforcing them.

3. Sure we have laws prohibiting harassment, obstructing people and aggressive panhandling, but according to testimony by Paul Henderson, chief administrator of the District Attorney’s Office, when people are on trial for these offenses, judges require a victim to show up in court because the defendant has the right to confront his accuser, and it cannot just be the cop who witnessed the crime. (And that’s assuming the police happen to be there to see the crime and that we want officers to spend their time testifying in misdemeanor trials.) Finding victims who have the time, interest and guts to prosecute quality-of-life crimes is the main impediment to enforcing them, say the police. Prop. L is different because it doesn’t have such a “victim cooperation” requirement. Sort of like a speeding ticket.

4. A law similar to Prop. L was passed in May after complaints that people were hanging around in front of bars and dance clubs after closing time, causing trouble. At the time, the police didn’t have the ability to ask people to move along, so the board passed an anti-loitering law aimed those establishments. As with Prop. L, people get a warning to move along and then a citation if they don’t. After one year, there have been two citations issued and no complaints about selective enforcement.

Raising a glass to the doomed alcohol fee

Having had a full four weeks to think up new and inventive ways to tell us what to do, I’m eager to see what the supes will have to introduce Tuesday when they meet to vote on a number of old items. The most interesting thing on the agenda: Supervisor John Avalos’ alcohol fee to pay for alcohol treatment services. Estimates of the impact of this fee range from a few cents per drink up to $1, depending on whom you ask. The study showing the costs of alcohol abuse services upon which this law is based basically reflects that the beneficiaries are a few thousand people.

While this is a microcosm of what happens with millions of our tax dollars in this city, people are riled up about having to directly foot the $18 million bill for alcohol treatment. This fact is not lost on people seeking higher office.

Lieutenant governor candidate Mistermayor has promised to veto the measure and Mayoral candidate Supervisor Bevan Dufty plans to vote against it. Dufty’s vote, along with those of Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu and Sean Elsbernd, mean that the veto will stick.

Not that any of this will stop the show at the Board of Supervisors meeting. There will be long self-satisfying speeches. People wearing stickers will clap. After the meeting, I’ll meet up with my fellow political nerds. Perhaps we’ll create a new drink and call it “the veto.” Then we’ll toast the return of the supes.  

Numbers adding up to shaky city budget

When Moody’s Investor Service downgraded San Francisco’s lease revenue bond rating to “negative” in June, it did so because The City’s current budget is balanced on rather shaky numbers. “There are substantial uncertainties associated with some of the revenues included in the proposed budget, both one-time and ongoing,” the report said.

It also recognized that “key expenditure cuts are a decrease in the general fund subsidy to the hospital, though this relies upon receipt of federal and state revenue which is not yet assured, and cuts in social service spending.”

Last month, Congress passed a supplemental update to the federal budget. So I called City Controller Ben Rosenfield to inquire about our budget expectations versus the reality of recent federal funding numbers. While the City Controller’s Office will be issuing a formal budget update in October, he was able to tell me that federal funding will be $30 million to $40 million less than we thought.

Specifically, The City expected $25 million in federal Medicaid reimbursements, but will only get about $17 million.

Furthermore, $88 million in anticipated federal money for other hospital cost reimbursements will probably end up being $68 million.

Rosenfield explained that The City has already instituted a hiring freeze and halted equipment and materials purchases. While that is a good start, I suspect our city’s budget will still end up in the emergency room.

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