By Skyler Swezy
On Wednesday, the Coalition on Homelessness held a press conference on City Hall’s front steps to denounce the proposed sit-lie ordinance shortly before the Police Commission convened to discuss the topic. Symbolically choosing to sit, more than 35 members of various San Francisco rights and neighborhood organizations. Speakers passed the microphone before a sparse group of journalists.
Joey Cain, representing the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council, told the gathering, “There’s a lot of people from the Haight who oppose this law and we’re going to show up at every meeting to fight this thing.”
Inside City Hall, Assistant Chief Kevin Cashman gave a power point presentation before the Police Commission, explaining the sit-lie ordinance would prohibit sitting or lying on a public sidewalk between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. and emphasized a warning would be issued before a citation.
“Our goal with this ordinance is not to cite everyone. Our goal is to change behavior,” Cashman said.
He said the police receive constant complaints from business owners in the Haight about people lying in front of their stores, however these owners rarely file an official complaint because they say they fear retaliation. He said that under current law, willful intent to obstruct must be proven in court and a third party must testify, thus the law is ineffectual.
Commissioner Petra DeJesus was the most skeptical of the proposal and thorough in her questioning of the police. “So under this new law, just the act of sitting would be a criminal act?” she asked, drawing laughter from the audience.
“Do you have any examples of how many people are blocking the sidewalks and what their status is?” she asked.
The police could not provide related statistics.
Police Capt. Teresa Barrett, whose jurisdiction includes the Haight, said local business owner and resident complaints at community meetings prompted the push for a new ordinance.
“In November, we were starting to see a trend they [community members] had not seen in many years in the Haight,” she said. However, when pressed by Commissioner Dejesus, Capt. Barret could not produce statistics or numbers that would indicate a rise in thuggish behavior or community complaints.
“Let’s do our homework and gather statistics, and see whether or not we are really having serious problems,” said Commissioner Dejesus. She remained doubtful that proper enforcement of current laws would be unable to solve aggressive or criminal behavior in the Haight.
During public commentary, anti sit-lie speakers far outnumbered those in support of a new ordinance. The creation of a “forced march”, further marginalization of troubled youth and an open-ended law that could be abused in the future, were among the fears voiced.
One long-time resident in favor of the ordinance said 20-somethings she knew avoided the bars and restaurants of Haight because of the panhandlers. “Our economy is failing because of these aggressive thugs,” she said.
Ultimately, it is the Board of Supervisors who will vote on the issue, which was filed by the Mayor’s office on March 1 and is currently under 30 day rule.