The debate over a ban on camping in the Castro District — that’s right, Castro camping is now a thing that’s legislated — has taken a step outside the bounds of civil discourse our forefathers might vaguely recognize, and plowed straight into one-upsmanship well-behaved fraternal organizations could find pride in.
Look out now: this political battle’s become an old-fashioned stunt war!
In this corner is Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose proposed ban on camping — among other things — in Castro open spaces, including a public street reclaimed as a pedestrian plaza, goes up for a vote at the Board of Supervisors later today.
In this here other corner, Bob Offer-Westort of the Coalition on Homelessness, who surrendered his Friday night to the movement and to San Francisco police, who cited him for pitching a tent in Harvey Milk Plaza.
Wiener says his law addresses neighborhood concerns and what he described as an ambiguity over whether existing state law does indeed ban camping in Harvey Milk as well as recently-renamed Jane Warner Plaza along Market Street in the Castro.
Offer-Westort says his arrest for camping — a violation of the state penal code — shows that further laws outlawing public sleeping are unnecessary, and nothing more than a “feel good” gesture to win political points among a constituency increasingly alarmed by the city’s homeless problem, which doesn’t ever seem to just get on the bus back to Marin and stay there.
As was reported in several outlets Monday, Offer-Westort was arrested and cited about a half-hour into his Friday sojourn, receiving a citation for violating California Penal Code section 647 (e); a total “publicity stunt,” Wiener said Monday.
Yet Wiener was the one first guilty of a stunt, Offer-Westort retorts. Wiener’s ban on camping is similar to other anti-homeless legislation that’s made its way onto San Francisco’s law books, he claims, like Care Not Cash and other measures meant to assuage the general washed public that something’s being done about the unwashed masses.
“Supervisor Wiener is not able to solve homelessness,” said Offer-Westort, who said that urine from patrons of nearby bars is a greater threat to cleanliness in the two Castro plazas, but that clamping down on bars would anger the local merchant organization.
“So, he proposes legislation which will make life a little harder for homeless people, but which won’t actually resolve any of the problems that the [Castro] Community Benefits District complains about.”
“It’s cynical politics as usual,” he added. “If Supervisor Wiener is able to persuade his colleagues to pass this legislation, (Tuesday), then he can tell his constituents that he addressed their concern. But the problem will remain. Two years from now, he’ll need to introduce new anti-homeless legislation. This happens all the time.”
Saying that 2010’s sit-lie law should also apply to anyone sleeping outside, a number of Castro-based activists and agitators have also spoken out against Wiener’s law — which does indeed have the support of the local merchant organization, Wiener said.
“His statement that this legislation is for just a small group of people in the Castro shows how little understanding he has of the neighborhood,” Wiener said Monday evening.
“This legislation is very popular in the neighborhood, which is why the vocal opponents, with only a few exceptions, don’t live here or work here.”
So who will stunt last? Possibly Wiener, if the laws officially and forever banning camping in Harvey Milk and Jane Warner plazas passes the full Board today.