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

Stephanie Sierra Image
Saturday, February 25, 2023
Did SF overlook its plan to curb alleged sex work in the Mission?
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.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The plan to curb ongoing prostitution in San Francisco's Mission District may itself be in violation of certain regulations.

The barriers were supposed to stop alleged prostitution along five blocks of Capp St. from 18th to 22nd. But the ABC7 News I-Team has learned the city's process of blocking streets in this area may violate state statute and city fire code.

Documents obtained by the I-Team detail the city has plans to order more permanent barriers intended to last longer.

"My understanding is that there are water-based barriers that are under order," said Supervisor Hillary Ronen. "Those are still planned to arrive in a week."

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According to Ronen, the concrete barriers will soon be replaced with water-filled barriers.

"The fire department doesn't like those either," said Ronen. "They don't like the concrete ones or the water barriers."

The fire department is worried about delayed emergency response times, but that's not the only reason the plan is drawing controversy. Both purchases may not be tax money well spent. Public safety advocates are concerned the barriers may be in violation of state statute and city ordinance.

According to the California Vehicle Code, cities can only block streets in counties with more than 6 million people. San Francisco has just over 800,000 residents.

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The state's fire code also puts restrictions on where barriers can be placed to ensure fire trucks can turn around and respond to emergencies.

"The fire code specifies the type of access that fire trucks need to have for public safety," said attorney Chris Dolan. "The vehicle code allows local governments to put limitations on traffic movement based on crime. So both of these have an effect. They need to be balanced."

Dolan says the state's vehicle code allows cities to block of streets because of criminal activity but says in order to do that, a public hearing must be held.

"That involves a public process including consultation with the fire department and other safety forces," Dolan said. "Many of the residents may have unique needs, for example, a resident may be disabled and may need access to their garage."

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But aside from a private community meeting, it's unclear if a public hearing was ever held.

"The mayor made the ultimate decision and she overrode the concerns of the fire department, and I understand why she did that," said Ronen.

Ronen says the mayor made it clear they had to weigh all the options and determined the danger impacting the neighborhood took priority over response times. This brought welcomed relief to residents in the area who say the barriers limit prostitution and reduce violence on the streets.

"So the fact that you're bringing this to light at this point is a really an important thing," said Dolan. "These departments need to sit down now before a fire occurs."

The I-Team reached out to the mayor's office for an interview, but have yet to hear back. We've also contacted the State Fire Marshal, the San Francisco Fire Dept., and the Department of Motor Vehicles for further comment and clarification on current enforcement measures.

Take a look at more stories by the ABC7 News I-Team.

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