Public hearing held on SF's sit-lie proposal

May 10, 2010 6:40:45 PM PDT
San Francisco lawmakers continue to debate a controversial proposal by Mayor Gavin Newsom. It would ban people from sitting or lying on the city's sidewalks from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. The Board of Supervisors' Public Safety Committee held a hearing on Monday.

On one side merchants want the measure because they say young thugs and other homeless people are congregating outside their doors, hurting business and intimidating customers.

On the other side, homeless advocates and civil libertarians say it will penalize homeless people, day laborers and others whom police deem as objectionable.

While this debate is playing out, other California cities already have some version of the law. ABC7 went to Berkeley to see how their ordinance is working.

Berkeley enacted a law in 2007 that bans lying on the sidewalk. People are still allowed to sit, but Mayor Tom Bates says he is closely watching what San Francisco does because a ban on sitting may become appropriate for his city.

"We are interested in what San Francisco does and we are considering that as a possibility," he said.

One homeless man ABC7 talked to says he still gets hassled for sitting and has received numerous citations for lying down. Bates says Berkeley enacted the law because improper street behavior was frightening residents, hurting businesses and impacting the city's bottom line.

Their law was put into place along with other changes designed to improve the life of those on the streets. More benches were installed, more public bathrooms opened, more shelters were created and supportive housing put into place.

Bates feels comfortable with those services in place, the ban on lying does not criminalize the homeless. He still believes Berkeley is a liberal bastion and says there has been no legal challenge to the law.

In San Francisco the Haight-Ashbury is the flashpoint.

"I'm 67 years old and I don't feel safe walking down Haight at night anymore," sit-lie supporter Arthur Evans said.

Others who came to City Hall said they understand the fears, but not the suggested remedy.

"It's already illegal to threaten someone. It's already illegal to assault someone on the sidewalk. The sit-lie does nothing to address the behaviors that are problem behaviors," sit-lie opponent Andy Blue said.

But in Berkeley, Bates says his city's law is working, but they could do even more.


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