Examiner Editorial: Stop surrending sidewalks to street thugs 

It could hardly be a shocking revelation to anyone that the sidewalks and business doorways of the Haight have largely been taken over by loitering street thugs who get high, threateningly demand handouts and seriously intimidate tourists and residents alike.

At differing levels of severity, much the same sidewalk thug problem exists in other iconic San Francisco neighborhoods — Fisherman’s Wharf, Polk Street, the Mission and Union Square. But the Haight has become so out of control that its residents and merchants demanded for months that something be done to make their streets safer.

There was little early encouragement from Haight district Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi or City Hall. But when incoming Police Chief George Gascón took one look at Haight Street, he recommended a “sit-lie” ordinance like those successfully implemented in famously tolerant enclaves such as Seattle, Santa Cruz and Austin, Texas. Of course the mere mention of sit-lie enforcement stirred up San Francisco’s traditional ultrapermissiveness forces.

For weeks, the Board of Supervisors dragged its feet over holding a public hearing. But during a confrontational five-hour meeting March 1, the Public Safety Committee heard from numerous citizens that current laws do not help the problem. Sidewalk squatters can now be cited only on specific citizen complaints, leaving the complainant vulnerable to later retaliation.

Mayor Gavin Newsom then waded into the fray by introducing legislation making it illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks anywhere in San Francisco from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. First-time violators get police warnings to move on and $50-$100 citations if they don’t. Subsequent violations can rise to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Newsom said he was motivated by taking his infant down Haight Street in a stroller and observing somebody smoking crack in a business entry.

At the same time, a new poll by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce found that approximately 71 percent of 500 surveyed voters favored a sit-lie ordinance and more than half of those were strongly in favor. Only 24 percent were opposed and 5 percent said they didn’t know. This is a big increase from two years ago, when the Chamber’s prior sit-lie poll tallied 62 percent support and only 33 percent strongly in favor.

This groundswell of public support for a sit-lie law will make it difficult for the Board of Supervisors doctrinaire majority to bury the mayor’s bill — especially when a popular ballot measure would be sure to follow. Determined supervisorial efforts to water down sit-lie can undoubtedly be expected. However, the Haight community’s grassroots effort has sparked a growing recognition that the San Francisco majority demands its streets back from crowds of speed-addicted hoodlums with off-leash pit bulls.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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