Sit-lie clashes with San Francisco policies

A proposed anti-loitering law contradicts scores of city policies that aim to turn sidewalks into vibrant social gathering places, city planning officials found.

Mayor Gavin Newsom introduced sit-lie legislation after moving into a home near the Upper Haight neighborhood, where hordes of young people spend hours lazing on sidewalks.

Residents of the former hippie bastion have said during City Hall hearings that they are intimidated by the loafers.

If approved by the Board of Supervisors, the sit-lie law would outlaw sitting or lying on footpaths citywide between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., with 30-day jail sentences and $500 fines for repeat offenders.

Sitting on blankets and fold-up chairs on sidewalks also would be illegal.

The proposed law would give police officers new powers to tackle problems with chronic loiterers.

But the Planning Commission voted 6-1 on Thursday to oppose the legislation after hearing the results of an analysis by Planning Department staff. The nonbinding vote serves to advise lawmakers.

Streets take up one-fourth of The City’s land, and San Francisco has worked in recent years to re-engineer its sidewalks as gathering spaces to help address a shortage of public open space.

The use of sidewalks as gathering places is considered particularly important in high-density neighborhoods, such as South of Market and the Tenderloin, where there are not enough neighborhood parks to meet the needs of residents.

Commission Chairman Ron Miguel said Thursday he often sits on a street bench while his grandchildren sit on the ground nearby. “Technically, that’s prohibited [under the sit-lie law],” Miguel said.

Newsom’s Pavement to Parks program, for example, has converted a handful of street-side spaces, including one at 17th and Castro streets, into areas where neighbors can lounge and chat.

Under the sit-lie law, it would be illegal to sit down in such parklets unless a permanent bench was installed, commissioners were told.

“Overall, policies in the general plan say that sidewalks are not just for movement; sidewalks are places to gather,” Planning Department Legislative Analyst AnMarie Rodgers told commissioners Thursday.

“The sidewalks should supplement our parks system, especially in dense areas where people don’t have access to parks,” Rodgers said.

Current San Francisco policies say sidewalks should be considered part of The City’s open space system, according to Rodgers.

Nicolas King, an official in Newsom’s Office of Criminal Justice, told commissioners the media had blown the legislation out of proportion and that police would use discretion when enforcing the proposed new law.

“It’s really not that much of an exciting proposal,” King said. “It’s not going to be something that results in a police state.”

Penalties under proposed sit-lie law

No penalty would be given if the violator heeds a warning and stands up at the request of police.

First offense: $50 to $100 fine and/or community service

Second offense within 24 hours: $300 to $500 fine and/or up to 10 days in jail

Second offense within 120 days: $400 to $500 fine and/or up to 30 days in jail

Source: San Francisco Planning Department

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