Civil disagreements - Page 2

Haight Street merchants are by no means united in support of sit-lie

People who sit and lie down on Haight Street sidewalks are at the center of a battle over Prop L

Joey Cain, a member of the Haight Street anarchist collective Bound Together Books since 1979, voiced strong opposition to the ordinance and said he felt Prop. L was being pushed by a small minority who weren't really representative of the merchants. Cain is the president of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC), which is often at odds with HAIA. He views the whole thing as a political move on the part of HAIA, the Chamber of Commerce, and the San Francisco Police Department. "We just see it as a nasty, divisive, unnecessary action," he said. "I have no doubt it will pass. People are looking for a scapegoat, and homeless people are the scapegoat of the age."

Cain was also miffed at HAIA's cooperation with San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius, who penned articles that triggered the debate. "HAIA worked with Nevius on trashing the neighborhood — just before the Christmas season," he said.

Tony Green, a manager at Amoeba Music, said there was certainly some genuinely bad behavior on Haight Street. "The trouble is, making one law that covers everybody is difficult," he said.

Kimberly Digregorio, store manager at Crossroads Trading Co. on Haight, said her own gripe is that the sidewalks are filthy, and she welcomes the sight of the high-pressure hose crews that come through to blast away the grime. Although she attributes the problem in part to pets of kids who camp on the street, she doesn't think a law banning sitting or lying on the sidewalk is the solution. "You just ask them to move away from the business. I've never had an issue with that," she said.

The Civil Sidewalks web page features videos of the owners of Iris, Recycled Records, and an employee at Pure Beauty voicing support for Prop. L, and there is a fourth who does not give his name or business. Uyehara claims to have spoken with most of the roughly 140 businesses along the block and found that the majority support the law. But only 55 supporters are listed on the Civil Sidewalks page under "Upper Haight Street Merchants."

Calls to The Alembic, Squat & Gobble, the Red Vic Movie House, Braindrops, and the Haight Street Market went unreturned. The owner of The Looking Glass Collage-Stained Glass declined to comment, a retail clerk at Ben & Jerry's said the manager was vacationing, and the phone at Martin Macks rang unanswered. A call requesting an interview with Park Station Police Capt. Teresa Barrett was not returned.

Ted Loewenberg, the president of HAIA, is a strong advocate for Prop. L. "The problem is real and it needs to be dealt with," he said. "The problem is not whether they're standing or sitting," he said, it's "being territorial." He added that "one of the key focuses we have is to bring merchants and residents together to give people a reason to go back to Haight Street."

Praveen Madan, an owner of The Booksmith, is a relative newcomer to Haight Street, and says he's still gathering information before deciding how to vote on Prop L. "While there are some genuine issues, they've gotten blown out of proportion and distorted," he said. "I don't feel an outright threat to my safety." He said that if he asks someone to move from outside his bookstore, "nine times out of 10, they leave. They just pick up and go to a different spot." For his part, Madan is trying to encourage a more informed dialogue. He told us there's a lot of misinformation floating around and "a paucity of good info and facts." Soon after he and his wife moved onto the street three years ago, they noticed that homelessness was a problem — so they decided to host community forums exploring the topic in depth. Since the Prop. L debate surfaced, "We have been thinking of organizing another one," he said. "We bring people together ... so people can get some real insight on these issues and make up their own minds."