sit-lie11.jpgA San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee today debated a contentious ordinance that would ban sitting or lying on public sidewalks, and ultimately decided to postpone a decision on whether to approve or reject it.

Homeless advocates oppose the law, arguing it will criminalize homelessness and be used as a tool to push people who live on the streets out of neighborhoods.

Police maintain the law would help ensure the public safety for residents and economic vitality for businesses.

The sit-lie ordinance, debated today before the Public Safety Committee, would ban sitting or lying on sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. It would allow a warning from police before any citation is issued, and exceptions to the law would be made for medical emergencies, those in wheelchairs or strollers, and those participating in demonstrations or standing in line for goods or services.

The proposed law was introduced by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Michaela Alioto-Pier, and is supported by Police Chief George Gascon.

Police have said the idea came in response to complaints by residents and business owners in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood about harassment and intimidation by street youth huddled on sidewalks outside businesses.

“What we’re really talking about here is civility on our sidewalks,” said Alioto-Pier, adding that parts of the Haight have become “a hotspot for street bullies, pit bulls and drug abuse.”

Homelessness is “really not the issue,” she said. “This issue is blocking our sidewalks.”

Opponents counter that there are already laws on the books to enforce against sidewalk obstruction or aggressive behavior.

Police say a new law is needed that does not require witnesses–who they claim are sometimes unwilling to come forward for fear of retribution–in order to prosecute the cases.

Police, though, have said enforcement of the new law would come in response to community complaints.

Critics have also raised concerns about whether day laborers resting while waiting for jobs would be cited.

Committee member and board president Supervisor David Chiu also has introduced legislation as an alternative or complement to the sit-lie ordinance that would create a task force to explore solutions through community courts and social services.

Both Chiu and supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Bevan Dufty, the other two committee members, expressed concern today that more information was needed about how the law would be enforced, and how effective it would be.

After nearly seven hours of debate, all three supervisors agreed to continue both sit-lie proposals until the committee’s next meeting on May 24.

Supervisor Chris Daly, an outspoken opponent of the law who is not a member of the committee, suggested at today’s hearing that the issue was pitting the city’s political moderates and business community–traditional Newsom supporters–against the progressives.

Newsom intends to submit the sit-lie issue to the city’s November ballot if the board does not pass “a meaningful ordinance,” according to his spokesman Tony Winnicker.

Daly said moderates intended to make sit-lie “a wedge issue” in the November election.
“This is about behavior. This is not about politics,” Winnicker responded.

Daly decried what he called a “radical shift” in the priorities of Newsom’s administration away from funding health and human services, in favor of law enforcement, he claimed.

“It speaks to who we are and what we care about,” Daly said. He said the city rather needed to prioritize funding to homeless services.

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