(Corey Browning/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

UC Hastings, merchants sue city over ‘squalid sidewalk conditions’ in Tenderloin

Lawsuit alleges officials treating neighborhood as defacto ‘containment zone’ for homelessness, crime

UC Hastings College of the Law and others filed a lawsuit Monday asking the courts to intervene in the “desperate crisis” unfolding on the streets of the Tenderloin.

The lawsuit seeks a court order preventing the City and County of San Francisco from continuing to use the low-income neighborhood as an alleged “containment zone” for open-air drug dealing and homeless encampments.

Attorneys argue that the “squalid sidewalk conditions” threatening the health and safety of residents have only grown worse during the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, also alleges that The City has “arbitrarily determined where homeless encampments” are located by selectively enforcing the law.

“This is a matter of fundamental fairness,” attorneys wrote. “San Francisco should be prohibited from abandoning a single neighborhood, in an apparent effort to spare other neighborhoods the burdens that confront the city at-large.”

UC Hastings joined the Tenderloin Merchants and Property Association in filing the lawsuit alongside several individuals including the manager of a residential hotel, owner of a restaurant and an area resident.

The college, which is located at the heart of the Tenderloin, spends $2.3 million each year on security and has lost potential students as a result of the drug usage and dealing in the neighborhood, according to the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, residents and workers have trouble leaving their homes without navigating through crowds of people blocking the sidewalks, which have become increasingly crowded during the pandemic, the lawsuit claims.

And because homeless people are exempt from the stay-at-home order, attorneys say UC Hastings is “deeply concerned that a significant portion of the homeless population in the Tenderloin…may have COVID-19.”

“The pandemic has ominously exacerbated dangers and harms to those who live, work, and go to school in the Tenderloin, and it threatens to do so for years to come as successive waves of infection bring further death and despair,” the complaint reads.

Mayor London Breed addressed the lawsuit during a press conference Monday, saying that the challenges of the Tenderloin “are so complicated” and long lasting.

“I don’t think it is helpful that we have people who unfortunately are taking this route rather than trying to work with the city to resolve these issues,” Breed said.

However, Breed said The City would issue a “block-by-block” plan later this week to address some of the issues on the streets, including social distancing.

“We are doing everything we can,” she said.

John Cote, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, echoed her statement.

”The City is gathering community feedback on the plan today,” Cote said. “It is unfortunate that UC Hastings chose to go to court rather than allow that community process to proceed.”

For Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the neighborhood on the Board of Supervisors, the lawsuit mirrors concerns he has raised in recent weeks.

“It is just dangerous, unsafe, awful and deeply immoral to have so many people in the [Tenderloin] still living on our streets, without rooms, bathrooms, water, unable to shelter in place, during a literal plague,” Haney said on Twitter.

He is pushing for more bathrooms and handwashing stations for the neighborhood, as well as hotel rooms for the homeless to shelter during the pandemic.

In addition to UC Hastings and the Tenderloin Merchants and Property Association, the plaintiffs are Pierre Hotel manager Fallon Victoria, Soluna Cafe and Lounge co-owner Rene Denis, Cadillac Hotel resident Randy Hughes and Tenderloin resident Kristen Villalobos.

S.F. Examiner Staff Writer Joshua Sabatini contributed to this report.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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