Beautification or homeless deterrent? New sidewalk planters installed in SF spark controversy

ByCornell Barnard KGO logo
Monday, June 12, 2023
New sidewalk planters installed in SF spark controversy
A neighborhood landscaping project in San Francisco's Mission District is raising eyebrows and drawing controversy.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A neighborhood landscaping project in San Francisco's Mission District is raising eyebrows and drawing controversy. Some believe the effort to install large metal planters on several city blocks is an effort to deter the unhoused from camping out on sidewalks.

There's something new on Harrison Street in the Mission: large metal planters recently installed between 18th and 20th streets.

"I figure there's 40 of these tubs out here with plants, the effort and the energy has got to make the world a better place," said Ron Poznicek.

A group of about 50 Mission residents raised about $25,000 to install the heavy planters to beautify the street, but others believe it's a way to deter homeless encampments from returning to the area.

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"Everybody has to have a place to live, but personally I don't believe the street or sidewalk is a place to live," Poznicek said.

A GoFundMe page is in place for Harrison Street. Neighbors make no mention of overnight camping, but photos on the fundraising page show before and after pictures from other neighborhoods with tents and planters.

"I think putting the planters there, keeping people from pitching a tent and having a safe place to sleep is helping anything," said former San Francisco resident Meyer Gorelick.

Some are critical of project. Jennifer Friedenbach from the Coalition on Homelessness says fundraising efforts should be targeted elsewhere.

"So for us, we'd love to see the neighbors throw down and put that energy into fighting for housing for folks, so they can have a safe place to live," said Friedenbach.

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Clearing public sidewalks is nothing new in the city. Last year, round planters were installed in the Castro to deter open-air drug dealing and boulders were installed in Clinton Park as a way to block tents on the sidewalk. But the boulders were later removed by Public Works at the request of neighbors who paid for them because they were getting threats by those who disagreed with the idea.

In a statement, Public Works officials said, "Public Works supports neighbors' efforts to green and beautify their communities. Our main concern is to ensure that an accessible path of travel is maintained and that the planters are well maintained. The planters on Harrison appear to meet the standards."

Travis is living in a tent near Harrison. He says he doesn't blame neighbors for installing the planters.

"People are tired of the camping out situation. It's a blight on the city. People don't want to see it going home every day," Travis said.

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