Scott Wiener supports the Occupy movement — the Castro District’s elected supervisor affixed his name to the Board of Supervisors’ pledge of support. He won’t be around for the local neighborhood edition Saturday — he’ll be out of town — which may be just as well, as a group of neighborhood malcontents are using their Occupy the Castro protest to further their opposition to a set of rules Wiener’s proposed for the Castro’s open spaces that are anathema to Occupy standards.
Harvey Milk Plaza, the brick entryway into the Muni station at Market and Castro streets in front of the Diesel store, named for the slain LGBTQ icon and marked by the gigantic rainbow flag visible from many parts of town, and Jane Warner Plaza, the intersection of Castro, 17th, and Market streets, closed to automobile traffic under the “Pavement to Parks” program in favor of planter pots and patio furniture, are virtually the only open spaces in the entire Castro aside from sidewalks.
The rules currently governing both are insufficient, according to Wiener, almost comically so: Harvey Milk Plaza is technically owned by Muni, while the California Vehicle Code is the law of the land at Jane Warner, which is a road, just closed off from automobile traffic. Neither are governed by the Parks Code, in effect in nearly every other open San Francisco space.
Wiener introduced legislation Nov. 15 to, among other things, ban camping, large wheeled vehicles like shopping carts, and smoking in both spaces.
“We’ve been talking about this in the neighborhood for several years,” Wiener said Friday.
“Folks in the neighborhood agree, it’s important to know what’s acceptable and what’s not. That’s the impetus for it.”
While the rules would outlaw camping like everywhere else ruled by the Park Code, Occupy the Castro has nothing to do with Wiener’s proposed rules for the Castro’s public spaces, the supervisor noted.
Yet he’s still in the crosshairs: queer activist Tommi Avicolli-Mecca, one of the organizers of Occupy the Castro, accused Wiener this week in a Bay Area Reporter editorial of focusing more on banning public nudity than preserving AIDS funding. And some Castro District agitators and gadflys accuse Wiener’s rules of violating the sacrosanct spirit of Harvey Milk himself.
A modern-day Milk would need a permit from the Department of Public Works to organize rallies on the brown tile that bears his name, as would nonprofits and other events using the space, according to neighborhood resident Gary Virginia, who’s lived in the Castro since 1987.
“These areas are public space and should be as least restrictive as possible,” said Virginia, who noted that while permits can easily be secured for city-organized events like ski jumps on Lombard, “the average person is being restricted in many ways at one of the busiest intersections and tourist destinations in the city.”
Other opponents of the legislation aren’t pleased with Jane Warner Plaza’s hours, as volunteers take in and put out the tables from shelter in the morning and at night, meaning there’s places to sit — with towel covering bare bottom — from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. only. Others, like blogger and iconoclast Michael Petrelis, find issue with the provision on “peddling or vending” wares or printed material.
Of course, there’s nothing in Wiener’s laws or anywhere else that would ban political speech or demonstrations in the area, such as the marches and rallies seen most recently during the Prop 8 debate — and the Occupy the Castro rally planned for noon Saturday.
Most permits are a nominal formalities, easy to obtain, and not much more than a nod to the notion that public spaces are for the enjoyment of all, and if a rally or a motive for profit require their use, a fee is small potatoes.
And nothing’s final, either — Wiener said Friday he’s open to amendments when the legislation enters the committee process in the new year.