Nevius pushes for another crackdown, but it's not an agenda

Homeless-rousting cop Gary Buckner is the poster child of CW Nevius's latest crusade for a crackdown.
illustration from image by Lea Suzuki

At last week's California Music and Culture Association forum on San Francisco's war on fun, I was on a media panel with San Francisco Chronicle columnist CW Nevius that answered questions posed by the audience, and Nevius steadfastly denied that he has any kind of agenda in writing so regularly about the need to crackdown on nightlife and streetlife. But his column today is yet another example proactively pushing that very agenda.

Nevius (who didn't respond to my inquiry on the issue this morning or a follow-up this afternoon) was a Chronicle sportswriter for 20 years before being given a Metro news column that consistently has a reactionary, politically unsophisticated take on San Francisco life, following in the mold of predecessor Ken Garcia. His recent crusades include calling for crackdowns on the homeless in Golden Gate Park, on young people on the streets of the Haight and downtown, and on nightclubs whose patrons have engaged in violence, trumpeting “public safety” as the political priority that trumps everything else.

On Sept. 19, Nevius published yet another column promoting the sit-lie ordinance that he has championed since even before its official inception, which Mayor Gavin Newsom placed on the November ballot as Measure L. In that column, “City citations show need for sit-lie,” Nevius detailed how those cited for quality-of-life infractions such a blocking sidewalks or public drinking or urination – mostly poor vagrants on the margins of society – rarely get significantly punished by the courts. Using painfully tortured logic that I still don't understand, he used that situation as an argument for creating a new quality-of-life infraction – sitting or lying on sidewalks – that would probably be similarly ignored by both its targets and the courts.

“Only the most stubborn sidewalk sitter stays in place, daring the officer to write a citation. Sit/lie, by encouraging that kind of common sense compliance, should actually cut down on the number of cases coming through the court system, a system that is demonstrably ineffective,” Nevius wrote, making the argument that a new category of crimes will somehow lower the number of people headed into the court system. Again, I don't understand the logic either, and Nevius hasn't responded to my inquiries.

But today, Nevius follows up that column with the “news” that some city officials are now considering developing a pilot program for socking it to the top 40 “sidewalk scofflaws,” as Nevius labels them. Both columns feature the same cop, Officer Gary Buckner, who writes a lot of these quality-of-life tickets, and the same officials who share Nevius' public safety priorities and love to score political points with conservatives and moderates by scapegoating the poor and homeless.

During the CMAC forum, I copped to the Guardian's perspective and the fact that we do promote an agenda that seeks to make San Francisco a more progressive and tolerant place, acknowledging and sometimes celebrating urban realities, even when they are sometimes loud, stinky, and perhaps a little scary. Hey, that's life the big city.

But Nevius and the Chronicle pretend that they aren't pushing back with an agenda of their own, one that seeks to impose on this great city the conservative values of Walnut Creek, where Nevius lived until earlier this year, where everything is well-scrubbed and the poor are effectively policed into the shadows or edges of town. Nevius says that he's just an objective journalist covering the news, something that most San Franciscans see as laughably dishonest.

Of course they're pushing an agenda in collaboration with the cops, Mayor Gavin Newsom and reactionary politicians of his ilk, and the downtown interests who value tourist dollars more than the lives and rights of the poorest San Franciscans. And if they were more honest about that intention, and willing to publicly debate our respective positions in good faith, I'm confident that most San Franciscans would share the Guardian's agenda for the city.

C'mon, Chuck, what do you say?