It’s not surprising that it took SFPD a while to figure out how to enforce a law that, as written, appears to some to criminalize an entire class of people. Even though it was passed by the voters last November and officially went into effect six weeks later, SFPD says they decided to be extremely cautious in its roll-out of San Francisco’s controversial new Sit-Lie ordinance. Near the end of last year, the department said they were planning on waiting until mid-February to implement Sit-Lie, and after a hang-up at the printer, last week SFPD finally began to quietly enforce the law.
The ordinance arose out of the growing frustration merchants in the Haight-Ashbury felt with what they said were increasingly aggressive “street punks” hanging out in their neighborhood and, Sit-Lie supporters said, harassing passersby.
Largely pushed by the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association and C.W. Nevius’s “San Francisco is Scary” column in the Chronicle, Sit-Lie says police must first issue a warning to anyone sitting or lying down in the street between the hours of 7am and 11pm. A second offense gets you a citation (that is, a ticket). The maximum penalty for violators is a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.
Officially called the Civil Sidewalk Ordinance, the law grants exceptions for medical emergencies, protests, individuals with disabilities and people waiting in line to buy whatever shiny, overpriced gizmo Apple decides everyone is now legally required to own.
Opponents of the measure worry it will be used exclusively to harass homeless people–a group that’s already among city’s most vulnerable populations. They hold that not only does Sit-Lie go against San Francisco’s permissive spirit, but selective enforcement is essentially written into the law.
The real question is what will happen to the hipster splayed out on a Mission sidewalk with a tall can of PBR in one hand and Parliament Light in the other. He may look homeless but he’s got a trust fund and those jeans cost $250.Could he get called out for violating Sit-Lie?
Guess we’ll finally get to see, though an SFPD spokesperson tells the Chron that no one (hipster or otherwise) has been cited at publication time.
According to Lt. Troy Dangerfield this is because SFPD is “going to use it as a community policing tool to provide access to services.”
Whether the police are going to continue to use a light touch in enforcing the law remains to be seen but, as an initial roll-out strategy, it seems directly aimed at assuaging the fears of everyone who expected the law to be used to wage a full-scale war on San Francisco’s homeless population. How long they remain unconvinced will largely be left up to the actions of SFPD.