New barriers to deter alleged sex work on SF's Capp St. may be permanent. Here are the two options

Stephanie Sierra Image
Thursday, October 26, 2023
New barriers to deter alleged sex work on SF street may be permanent
There are two replacements to the barriers in the Mission District being considered that may be permanently installed to close four blocks of the neighborhood if approved by the SFMTA commission.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- New barricades to deter alleged sex work may soon be coming to San Francisco's Mission district. According to city staff, there are two replacements being considered that may be permanently installed to close four blocks of the neighborhood, if approved by the SFMTA commission.

The latest set of barriers, also called collapsible steel bollards, were installed along Capp from 18th to 22nd streets around four months ago. The set alone cost more than $250,000. But, within weeks many of them were destroyed.

Neighbors say people are breaking the lock on the bollard, removing the bolt, forcing them to collapse. In other cases, they're tearing down or detaching an entire graffiti-covered bollard that's been bolted to the ground, leaving neighbors relying on planter pots to block incoming traffic.

Since then the city has been working to replace the broken bollards, but as ABC7 found out in June that process isn't cheap.

"Frankly the bollards were inadequate," said Santiago Lerma, the legislative aide to Supervisor Hillary Ronen. "They were short and not very sturdy."

VIDEO: New $250K barricades installed to deter alleged sex work in SF destroyed

Video shows newly-installed barricades torn down and destroyed less than one month after being put up along Capp Street to deter alleged sex work.

According to Lerma, a third of the bollards recently installed were destroyed. Each bollard costs between a couple hundred dollars up to several thousand dollars.

But Lerma pointed out it's not the materials that are expensive, but the labor. He says it's likely all four blocks would need to be replaced. Based on the prior city estimate, that could be at least another $250,000 for the materials alone.

SFMTA is considering two replacements: silver steel bollards that are at least three to four feet tall or cement planter barriers that are currently being used in Berkeley.

Silver steel bollards (left) and cement planters (right) are the two barrier options being considered for Capp Street.
Silver steel bollards (left) and cement planters (right) are the two barrier options being considered for Capp Street.

The city is meeting with the San Francisco Fire Department within the next few weeks to discuss which option would be most efficient for first responders.

If the planter option is chosen, Lerma says it would involve two concrete planters on both sides of the street leaving the middle open with a metal bar to restrict smaller vehicles but still allow for emergency vehicles.

"We're looking at which is better, cheaper, and more efficient," said Lerma.

VIDEO: SF's street barriers to curb alleged sex work could be violating state, city law

San Francisco's process of putting street barricades to stop alleged sex work could violate state statute and city fire code, the I-Team has learned.

But some residents criticize that the process has been anything but cheap and efficient. Neighbors told the I-Team it's very challenging to get deliveries and stalled vehicles are always crowding the intersections.

"I don't think it's a good idea," said one Amazon delivery driver. "It just makes it hard for people to go through."

The closures began after complaints that violence, shootings, and alleged sex work were tearing apart the neighborhood. Since the bollards have been installed, neighbors say that's changed dramatically.

And so has the proposed solution itself. Over the past two years, there were traffic barriers, cement K-rails, consideration of the water-based barriers, then collapsible steel bollards, and replacement of those bollards.

"What do you say to critics who argue this was a waste of taxpayer money?" the I-Team's Stephanie Sierra asked.

"Well the problem that we solved was really...that it was our responsibility as a city to spend as much money as we need to reduce the sex trafficking that was going on.... hundreds of sex workers lining the streets, traffic was bumper to bumper. And if you go out there now, that is no longer present," Lerma said.

VIDEO: Street barriers aimed at curbing alleged sex work torn down in SF's 'red-light district'

Video shows new street barriers aimed to curb alleged sex work torn up in San Francisco's "red-light district."

Most residents the I-Team spoke with agree it's money well spent.

"It really solved the problem it was meant to address," said Benjamin, a Mission resident.

"No more loud music, and finally everybody is sleeping okay," said neighbor Shawna.

However other residents believe the money would be better spent on mental health services and support for the sex workers affected.

The I-Team asked Lerma if the city would consider doing a phased approach where the bollards would be installed at one intersection as a trial run to test if it's effective and durable.

"Yes, that's a great idea," he said.

It's important to note that the San Francisco Fire Dept. will ultimately have the final say on what type of barrier is installed to ensure it can accommodate emergency vehicles.

As for whether these barriers will become permanent, the SFMTA commission is expected to vote on that before the end of the year.

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