Campaign launched against sit-lie measure

August 10, 2010 6:24:14 PM PDT
Dozens of opponents of a measure that would prohibit sitting on San Francisco sidewalks gathered in the Castro District today to launch a campaign against it months before voters will decide its fate.

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos was among the opponents of the proposed sit-lie measure who stood symbolically today in front of Harvey Milk Plaza at the corner of Market and Castro streets, where a similar law prohibiting sitting on sidewalks was used to target the gay community in the 1970s. It was eventually deemed unconstitutional.

Business owners in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, where the issue has been heavily debated, say the ordinance is necessary to counter what they say is increasingly aggressive behavior by street youth that detracts from the area's appeal as a place to shop and live.

Proponents argue the ordinance is necessary to enable police to enforce civility on sidewalks.

If approved by a simple majority of voters, the ordinance would prohibit sitting or lying on public sidewalks, or on objects placed on the sidewalk, between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. citywide.

On June 15, a week after the Board of Supervisors voted down a similar proposal, Mayor Gavin Newsom revived the proposed ordinance by placing the measure on the November ballot as Proposition L.

Campos faulted the Police Department for failing to enforce the multiple quality-of-life laws already on the books, which he said adequately address and criminalize the behavior proponents of the measure say justifies the need for the new ordinance.

"If they did their job, we wouldn't be here today," he said.

Many of the speakers present at today's event, including religious and community representatives, raised concerns that the measure would redefine San Francisco as a city that neglects vulnerable populations.

Members of the Sidewalks Are for People Coalition, who oppose the measure, say the law would be enforced unfairly against homeless people, people of color, queer people, those with disabilities and youth.

"If we're asking the police to enforce a new law against one group of people, but not against another, we're asking for a segregated neighborhood and a discriminatory legal system," the coalition said in a statement.

Campos said that the character of San Francisco is largely defined by the treatment of "those that are the most vulnerable."

"We all want civility on our streets. We all want civility on our sidewalk. But sit-lie is not the answer," he said.

San Francisco resident and mother Celina Sutton spoke out against the measure while holding her 6-month-old son Walt, who she said recently learned how to sit, joking "he's very good at it."

Sutton said she wants her son to grow up in a San Francisco with "safe community sidewalks," but sees the ordinance as encouraging discrimination. She said she hopes her son will know a San Francisco that can teach him to "treat everyone with respect."

Among the crowd were members from the San Francisco Day Labor Program, whose members held signs quoting civil rights activist Cesar Chavez that read "we don't need perfect political systems; we need perfect participation."

Because day laborers are required to stand for long stretches of time while looking for work, opponents of the measure argue that the workers, if they become exhausted and rest on the sidewalk, would be unfairly targeted by the measure.

At one point, as Campos addressed those day laborers directly in Spanish, he told them, among other things, "Todos estamos juntos," a phrase meaning, "We are all together."

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