It's really amusing to read the recriminations and second-guessing from the most vociferous proponents of criminalizing sitting or lying on San Francisco sidewalks after yesterday's Public Safety Committee hearing on the matter. And the funniest part is their failure to understand that this punitive, overreaching law just isn't needed to deal with aspects of street life that scare them most, as the police reluctantly testified.
Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius and Haight Street resident Arthur Evans have been the two most vocal promoters of the sit-lie ordinance, and both sounded similar criticisms of the Police Department and the Mayor's Office (as well as progressives, their usual target), Nevius in the paper and Evans on the Guardian's Politics blog (last comment on this item). They call on the so-called “moderates” step up their games or be defeated.
But they miss the point, and falsely believe that “common sense” is on their side. Certainly police officers have the ability to deal with rowdy groups of vagrants who are blocking the sidewalks and intimidating people. They do it all the time, and simply walking a beat usually prevents such behavior. To argue that tough police officers are powerless to deal with thugs defies common sense. And Assistant Chief Kevin Cashman even testified that police don't need an official citizen complaint to deal with people who are blocking the sidewalk, debunking a fallacy that is oft-cited by Evans and others.
But the efforts by Evans and the Chamber of Commerce to rebrand the sit-lie ordinance as the Civil Sidewalks Law – and to threaten to use it as a wedge issue on the November ballot – reveals their true intentions. The bottom line is they don't like the more unruly aspects of urban life, and they believe that they can legislate “civility” and have the cops enforce it.
That's a scary notion, and it's part of larger campaign to, as Nevius writes, “demonstrate to the far-left supervisors that they were seriously out of step with the residents of the city.” Nevius, who is not a resident of this city, wants San Francisco to be a bit more like his hometown of Walnut Creek. But San Franciscans shouldn't fall prey to their divisive fear-mongering, and supervisors like Sup. David Chiu – who has publicly toyed with the idea of compromising on sit-lie with some kind of restorative justice program – should heed the message of this hearing and resist creating an unnecessary new law that the community opposes.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen yesterday as the committee voted to continue the matter for two weeks. And you better believe that next time, the Evan-Nevius crowd will come back strong, with more fearful anecdotes than ever. But the opposition campaign to sit-lie has been strong, creative, and effective -- the true voice of San Francisco -- and it seems up to the fight.
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