Red herring or not, park closure vote delayed while supes seek police input

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Sups. Scott Wiener (left) and Eric Mar talk as the board considers the park closure bill.
Reed Nelson

There is only one police chief in this town, and no law regarding the usage of public parks shall pass without him. Or so they said yesterday when Sup. Scott Wiener continued for a week consideration by the Board of Supervisors of his controversial proposal to close the city’s parks and plazas at night.

Wiener – champion of the legislation that homeless advocates say specifically target the City's homeless population — motioned for continuance on the hotly contested agenda item after Police Chief Greg Suhr was unavailable to discuss how the measure might be enforced. The motion was seconded by Sup. Malia Cohen and passed without objection. 

But the continuance request means that Wiener will have to deal with what he calls an "epidemic of vandalism" for another week as well. The legislation would amend the “Park Code to establish hours of operation for City parks from 5am to midnight, with certain exceptions; and make environmental findings." 

"It's long been illegal to sleep or camp in parks," said Sup. Wiener. "[Police] don't need another law." 

"This. Is. About. Vandalism," Recreation and Parks Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg told the Guardian. "The homeless won't be thrown out. The laws are already on the books, man."

And while Wiener and those in the RPD have continued their insistence that that the legislation was written explicitly to target late-night vandalism, illegal dumping, and other nefarious activities not related to homelessness, opposition to the legislation say it's "red herring" legislation that, on its face, claims to combat vandalism, but underneath is actually a bill targeting the homeless.

Wiener disagrees with this stance, however, and actually called the argument made by the legislation's opposition — that the bill is a "red herring" ostensibly aimed at vandalism, but that really targets the homeless — a "red herring" as well. A red herring, historically, is a distraction. It's a Trojan Horse, a magician's assistant, a tool designed to confuse and obfuscate actual information or intent. 

It is a term that first found a foothold in the hunting world, but made it's transcendental leap into the world of politics. Politicians have employed the use of "red herrings" in the past. But why would a group called the Coalition on Homelessness actually support vandalism, as the supervisor's "red herring" comments would suggest?

When this fact was pointed out, Wiener told the Guardian that he "wasn't going to speculate." (And neither will we, at least as to why the supervisor chose to use the phrase "red herring" to describe the COH's argument in the first place.)

But regardless of rhetoric, next week's vote promises to be close. COH Executive Director Jennifer Friedenbach told the Guardian last week that she had the support of the four most progressive supervisors — John Avalos, Jane Kim, David Campos and Eric Mar — and needed just two of the three swing votes to shoot down the legislation. Those three undecided votes rest in the hands of Sups. London Breed, Katy Tang and Norman Yee.

"This is going to be a close vote," said Wiener.

But a vote that will have to wait a week.