Haight Voters Rejected Sit/Lie: But Money and Votes from City’s Richest Hoods — Pacific Heights, Seacliff, West of Twin Peaks — Made for Successful Measure L
In its brief time on earth, the Sit/Lie initiative — known as Civil Sidewalks to supporters, Measure L to voters and all sorts of nasty names to its vocal detractors — made quite an impact on San Francisco.
Articles about the initiative ruled news cycles beginning in December 2009, when the first tales of a new Haight-bred “street thug” phenomenon entered Chron columnists C.W. Nevius’s rotation, to February, when the measure was first introduced at the Board of Supervisors by Mayor Gavin Newsom — who, the story goes, was inspired to prohibit sitting and lying on public sidewalks from 7 am to 11 pm after a walk down Haight Street with his infant daughter — right up until the election.
And why not? With such imagery — packs of unruly street kids (and their dogs) terrorizing iPhone-toting taxpayers, spitting on babies and inspiring the Stanyan Street McDonald’s to get rid of its dollar menu on one side; the vestiges of the Summer of Love and examples from other cities where sit/lie laws were either ineffectual or stricken from the books in court — Sit/Lie stories had to dominate.
But if the Haight kids inspired San Franciscans to pass a law reminiscent of anti-gay statutes, that same generation of transient terrors didn’t frighten their own neighborhood very much. Haight voters rejected Measure L, preliminary election results show, with the voting precincts immediately abutting Haight Street rejecting the measure by a score of 1406 against to 1275 in favor.
In fact, Sit/Lie fared poorly in most voting precincts where one can actually find homeless people sitting on the street.
Sit/Lie lost overall in District 5, which includes the Haight. In District 6, which includes the Tenderloin and Sixth Street, the city’s most notorious Skid Rows, the measure won — but just barely, and mostly because of support from voting precincts in Rincon Hill, South Beach. Sit/Lie lost among voters on Sixth Street and in the Tenderloin.
So where did Sit/Lie do well? The measure’s margin of victory citywide was 23,000 votes, which is exactly the sum total of the winning margins Measure L enjoyed in supervisorial Districts 2 (Marina/Cow Hollow, Pacific Heights, Seacliff), 4 (Sunset/Parkside) and 7 (West of Twin Peaks, Ingleside Terrace, St. Francis Wood). In other words, in the San Francisco neighborhoods with a dearth of people using the sidewalks as a futon, Sit/Lie killed.
Peep the raw data for yourself, but here are some hand-picked nuggets to ponder: in posh Seacliff, Sit/Lie won by a 2-to-1 margin. In the Marina, Cow Hollow and Russian Hill north of Broadway, Sit/Lie won by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. And Sit/Lie’s biggest win, an astonishing 5-to-1 pummeling, came in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Pacific Heights voting precinct, where 249 voters — including, presumably, the former mayor and her husband, Richard Blum — voted in favor of Sit/Lie, to 53 bum-loving rich folk against.
This disparity seems a bit odd, especially when the need for a clean Haight was a key bit of Sit/Lie’s drumbeat, so The Appeal phoned Maxwell Szabo, the political consultant charged with running the campaign, for an explanation. Reached via telephone while visiting family in Southern California, Szabo, president of the San Francisco Young Democrats and an employee of Alex Tourk’s at Ground Floor Public Affairs, declined to speak on the record.
Gabriel Haaland — a queer activist and SEIU 1021 political director who was vocal in his opposition to Sit/Lie — offered his own explanation. That Sit/Lie had traction in the Haight is “simply untrue,” according to Haaland.
“I live two blocks from where the epicenter of [the problems inspiring sit-lie] supposedly is,” he said. “I walked up and down the street and talked to my neighbors, and people were opposed to it.”
“Most people felt this was a political stunt,” added Haaland. And an elite one: a veritable parade of the city’s elite bankrolled the measure, from professional fundraiser/local news org bankroller Dede Wilsey to venture capitalists Ronald Conway and Pete Thiel and possible mayoral candidate Joanna Rees, combined to dump some $400,000 in petty cash on the measure, while the No on L effort ran on fumes: a paltry $20,000.
We’re not one to preach, but Dede, baby: if you want poor folk out of San Francisco so badly, next time make like a Huffington and charter a bus or sixty.
“It’s like I was telling people all along,” said Andy Blue, the local advocate who ran the No on L campaign out of little else than sheer will, seemingly. “This (sit/lie) was financed by people who live in neighborhoods where there are no people hanging out on the sidewalk.”