Outside SF Federal Building, freedom of assembly is carefully controlled


By Rebecca Bowe

GSA's denial of a permit for an event outside the SF Federal Building inspired some art.

Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), a homeless advocacy group based in San Francisco, says he’s got busloads of people from cities up and down the West Coast headed into San Francisco Jan. 20 for a rally designed as a plea to the Obama Administration to make affordable housing a priority. But the estimated 1,500 participants in the event, dubbed “Homelessness Ends With a Home,” were left without a home base after word came down from the San Francisco Federal Building that the permit to hold it there had been revoked.

The event has since been changed to a permitted march that will go by the building, but Boden says the message he’s getting from the feds is essentially that freedom of assembly outside the new federal building will only be granted on narrowly defined terms, and with restrictions on the number of people who can attend. The San Francisco Federal Building, a green-design tower on Mission and 7th streets that opened in 2007, houses the offices of senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Jean Gibson, Regional Public Affairs Officer at General Services Administration (GSA), a government agency that manages the new federal building, says the permit denial was “no effort to silence the group,” but purely a decision to ensure functional operation and public access to the building.

WRAP had initially applied to hold the event in the plaza outside the building, and Boden says he specified in his permit application back in October that roughly 1,500 people were expected to attend, and that they planned to use a sound system. GSA approved the application and sent the nonprofit an event permit on Nov. 30, according to Boden. But a couple days later, after he called to ask where the port-o-potties should be placed, he says GSA responded with a disheartening email.

“After further review, General Services Administration (GSA) has made the decision to deny the use of the San Francisco Federal Building plaza area on January 20, 2010,” the email stated. “Thanks in advance for your understanding regarding this matter.”