Sit /lie goes down at the Board of Supervisors

Supes put out the fire on sit /lie for now, but it'll heat up again in November.
Rebecca Bowe

At the June 8 Board of Supervisors meeting, a controversial ordinance that sought to ban sitting or lying down on the sidewalk was voted down 8 to 3, with Sups. Michela Alito-Pier, Sean Elsbernd, and Carmen Chu voting in favor.

Proponents of the law, which was backed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Police Chief George Gascon, framed it as a measure to promote "civil sidewalks." Yet opponents believed that the law would be used as a tool against the homeless.

Alioto-Pier said the law was needed to give police a new tool for dealing with people who congregate on the streets and intimidate passersby, saying residents and businesses were bothered by "the presence of dogs or shouting."

Yet a number of supervisors spoke forcefully against the ordinance, saying it was not an appropriate solution to the problems that Alioto-Pier and other sit/lie backers had raised concerns about.

"I don't believe that this is the San Francisco way to to approach the challenges that we face," said District 8 Sup. Bevan Dufty, who goes along with Newsom's proposals more often than his progressive colleagues and is typically a swing vote on the board. Dufty referenced a former, similar San Francisco law that was ultimately repealed. "That was a law that didn't want to see gay men congregating at 1 a.m. outside a bar," he said. He called for a more substantive approach, saying, "We can do better."

Sup. David Campos also spoke against it. "It doesn't actually address the issue of civility," he said. "The case for this legislation simply has not been made." He noted that day laborers who wait for hours on the sidewalk in hopes of finding work could be targeted when they sit down to take a rest.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi said he thought greater enforcement of existing laws and community policing would be more effective than the proposed ordinance. Later in the meeting, he proposed a measure to be placed on the November ballot that would require police to adopt a foot beat patrol program and a community policing policy.

The board also voted unanimously in favor of a proposal by Board President David Chiu to create a neighborhood community justice task force "to make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors regarding the creation of restorative and community justice programs." Chiu pitched the idea as a more meaningful response to hostile behavior on the streets in neighborhoods such as the Haight, where calls for a sit /lie ordinance originated.

"We're very pleased about what happened today," said Andy Blue, an activist who organized a citywide campaign opposing sit / lie. But he said it wasn't over yet, since Newsom has already moved to place the proposal on the ballot. "We know we're going to face an uphill battle," he said, "because we're going to be in a campaign with some very well-funded opponents." But Blue said he felt confident that once the information got out to San Franciscans, "they'll vote against it in November."