Nighttime parks closure in San Francisco to be debated 

click to enlarge homeless
  • Cindy Chew/2007 S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Proposed legislation would keep people out of city parks from midnight to 5 a.m.
Debate over whether to close San Francisco’s parks at night begins today at the Board of Supervisors and centers on vandalism and homelessness.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who has proposed legislation that would close city parks between midnight and 5 a.m., said such closures are the only way to curb an estimated $1 million a year in vandalism and illegal dumping. He also notes that numerous other cities have similar or more restrictive park hours, including New York, Chicago and Boston.

But the proposal is facing sharp criticism from homeless advocates, making it politically controversial.

“We have over 5,000 homeless people sleeping outside on any given night,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness. “With only 1,339 shelter beds available, the parks offer necessary safety from the streets for many people.”

But Wiener counters, “It’s not about homelessness.” And when homeless advocates argue that such a policy would result in an increased police crackdown, Wiener said, “I don’t buy that,” noting that it is already illegal to sleep and camp in the parks.

While the homeless group is pressuring supervisors to shoot it down, other notable groups have come out in support of the park closure, including the San Francisco Parks Alliance; Isabel Wade, the founder and former executive director of Neighborhood Parks Council; and Local 261, the labor union representing park workers.

Currently, there are different hours of operation for parks set over the years by the Recreation and Park Commission, which are virtually unenforceable, Wiener said. And he said it is challenging to nab vandals, who commit the crimes predominately at night, since they would need to be caught “red-handed.”

Wiener would need at least six votes for the legislation to pass. It doesn’t sound like he can count on Supervisor Eric Mar’s support.

“I understand the need for controlling vandalism costs, but this sure seems to be targeted to keeping homeless out of places without providing the support to get stable housing and turn their lives around,” Mar said.

Supervisors perceived as key swing votes, such as Malia Cohen and Norman Yee, have declined to state their position.

Supervisor London Breed said she has concerns with the proposal and has heard from residents who live near North of Panhandle who oppose the closure because they want to be able to walk their dogs in the park at any time of the day, such as if they wake up at 4 am.

Breed said she was also concerned whether the closure would “push [homeless] out of the park into places that might not be the best places,” such as in residents’ doorways.

Today, the board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee will vote on the legislation. If approved, the full board could vote on the legislation on Oct. 22.

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