A controversial proposed ordinance in San Francisco that would ban sitting or lying on public sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. was passed at committee today, but its legislative sponsor acknowledged it will likely die at the full board as the issue moves to the November ballot.
Homeless advocates have lambasted the sit-lie ordinance proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Police Chief George Gascon as an attack on the homeless.
Supporters of the measure claim it will give police the ability to curb harassment of pedestrians and stimulate patronage of local businesses.
Newsom has said that if the Board of Supervisors does not pass a “meaningful” sit-lie ordinance, he will place the issue on the November ballot. The exact ballot language is still being drafted, Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker said today.
Despite expressing serious reservations about the ordinance before the Board of Supervisors, the three-member Public Safety Committee sent it–without recommendation–to the full board, where it is expected to be heard June 8.
“The mayor has asked us to have a vote on this, and I think we all should weigh in on this,” committee chair and board president David Chiu said after today’s hearing.
“It is clear that this measure is not going to pass at the Board of Supervisors,” said its co-sponsor Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier at an event in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood this afternoon, where supporters of a sit-lie ballot measure gathered to kick off their campaign.
The Haight-Ashbury neighborhood has become the center of the sit-lie debate, where some merchants and residents say migrant bands of street youth are becoming increasingly violent.
Kent Uyehara, the owner of a Haight Street skateboard shop, hosted today’s event. He said a group of merchants and residents, the Civil Sidewalks Coalition, are trying “to take back our neighborhoods.”
Uyehara believes a sit-lie ordinance is the only way to do that. He was joined at his shop by Gascon, who repeated his claim that police “lack the tools to deal with this problem effectively.” He said the current laws were not enough, and that a sit-lie ordinance could be “very surgically used.”
Winnicker said the sit-lie ballot initiative will “let the voters decide, as the board clearly is not taking the opportunity to be responsive to the small business owners and the neighbors who have to deal with this kind of behavior every day.”
Alioto-Pier insisted it was not subverting the political process to bring the measure directly to the voters after it fails at the board.
“If it’s something the people want, they’ll pass it,” she said.
Alioto-Pier said the law would help small businesses, which provide 60 percent of the city’s jobs and “are the backbone of San Francisco,” she said.
Chiu and the other committee members, Ross Mirkarimi and Bevan Dufty, all expressed concern earlier about whether the measure, as proposed, would have its intended effects.
Chiu and Mirkarimi maintained that there were several anti-loitering laws already on the books that were not being fully enforced. Mirkarimi stressed that mandated police foot patrols in trouble neighborhoods would help.
Chiu has proposed a companion ordinance–also forwarded to the full board but with recommendation–that would incorporate community and restorative justice models that bring together victims, residents and merchants without necessarily criminalizing some behaviors.
Dufty said the current street violence and other behavior in certain neighborhoods is “not acceptable” and the current enforcement process “does not seem to be working.”
Dufty said he still had questions about whether the ordinance as proposed “is the right thing to do.” However, he was the lone vote against sending the ordinance on to the full board, acknowledging it does not have the support to pass.
Newsom has until June 15 to submit his measure for the November ballot. It would require a simple majority of voters to pass.