Haight-Ashbury target for proposed city-wide sit-lie law

Accumulating reports of hostility and deteriorating civility along Haight Street are pushing some residents, merchants, police officers and now the Mayor to lay down a new law.

The proposed sit-lie law ordinance would prohibit sitting or lying on public sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m, excluding public parks and benches. Police would first issue a warning, but subsequent offenses could result in a fine of at least $50 up to $500 with possible jail time.

Although aimed at the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the law would apply city-wide. San Francisco could follow suit to Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Palo Alto who have enacted similar ordinances.

“This isn’t about targeting homeless people,” Ted Loewenberg, president of the Haight-Ashbury Improvement Association, asserts. “Haight neighbors have learned to tolerate them.”

Julia Yaziji, who moved to the area three years ago, says she has compassion for the homeless and a desire for safe streets. Still, she feels, “Haight Street is not a street where my children and I shop or spend time.”

Another recent confrontation turned into a fistfight between an “aggressive thug” with his dog and a Haight Street resident outside of his house. The resident, who suffered severe bite wounds, is moving because of the continued threats by the perpetrator’s friends.

It’s about changing behavior, says Loewenberg and the Mayor’s Office. Current laws against aggressive panhandling and blocking the sidewalks require a citizen or merchant to sign a complaint and agree to appear in court. A sit-lie law would make it possible for officers to take immediate action.

San Francisco’s elected public defender, Jeff Adachi, expects to challenge the law’s constitutionality if a person is charged under it. “It gives the police too much discretion to decide who should and who shouldn’t be prosecuted,” he told USA Today.

Taz Gran, a Haight resident and violinist, prefers to sit on her street to practice rather than disturb her roommates. “I don’t think sit-lie law is the solution,” she says, “not for people like me who just want to enjoy the weather and play music–not to mention for people who have mental health issues and are unable to go to a shelter.”

Newsom, who insists that the sit-lie law proposal isn’t criminalizing poverty, says San Francisco 24 hour shelters have 100 beds on any given night.

Homeless advocates argue this is simply pushing the poor out of sight and into the nearby parks. “Do parents want this?”  Yaziji questions. “I don’t believe we should penalize the homeless for merely using the sidewalks to sit.  The ordinance seems to push bad behavior into more remote, harder to control, areas of the city.”

By the end of May, a resolution will be reached which the Board of Supervisors is expected to reject. Residents are currently getting the signatures together for a ballot initiative in November, when the Mayor is anticipated to pass it.

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One response to “Haight-Ashbury target for proposed city-wide sit-lie law

  1. Pingback: Momentum shifts against sit-lie | San Francisco Bay Guardian « nicole jones documents

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