Revelations about sit-lie 

In researching the legality of sit-lie laws, I came across a study released in June called “Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities.” It was published by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless. The report surveyed laws in 235 cities (including San Francisco) and made some interesting findings:

  • 30 percent prohibit sitting or lying in certain public places.
  • 47 percent prohibit loitering in certain public places and 19 percent prohibit it citywide.
  • 47 percent prohibit begging in certain public places; 49 percent prohibit aggressive panhandling; and 23 percent have citywide prohibitions on begging.

At almost 200 pages, the report provides an exhaustive discussion of the legal landscape in 90 cities. Some have definitely used creative methods:

  • In Billings, Mont., it’s illegal to “aggressively solicit” and/or lie about being “from out of town, a veteran, disabled or homeless” while asking for money.
  • In Boerne, Texas, all panhandlers have to buy a license to solicit (like other solicitors and vendors) at a cost of $115. Durham, N.C., charges $20 for a panhandling permit.
  • Las Vegas, briefly had a law that prohibited sleeping “within 500 feet of a deposit of urine or feces.”

Bill appears to target SF’s sanctuary policy

You might recognize him as the man who made sure the state Legislature celebrated NASCAR Day on May 9, but Assemblyman Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands, is back in the news with a proposal aimed squarely at San Francisco.

Assembly Bill 2333 prohibits any county probation officer from placing a criminal in a residential facility in another county if the officer has reason to believe that person may be in the country illegally.

In 2008, under San Francisco’s former sanctuary policy of shielding youths from immigration authorities, eight Honduran drug dealers escaped youth rehabilitation centers in San Bernardino County. 

“It is my understanding that many of these illegal convicts have yet to be found and rearrested, clearly illustrating the harm that some sanctuary city policies pose to communities throughout California,” Emmerson reportedly said. “If a city wants to violate federal law, they shouldn’t be allowed to dump their problem on an unsuspecting county, putting our neighborhoods in jeopardy.”

Such fiery rhetoric about an issue that’s no longer an issue can only mean one thing: election time! Sure enough, Emmerson is running for state Senate in the Republican-heavy Riverside County, with the primary scheduled for April 13.

Methinks it’s Emmerson who’s dumping his problem on an unsuspecting county.

Supervisors change tune on law of land

Am I the only one who thinks it’s funny that the same San Francisco supervisors who insisted that we push the limits of the law when it comes to sanctuary for arrested youths are suddenly reluctant to enact a sit-lie law that a court would give the side-eye? The sudden and profound respect for the law supervisors now possess is nothing short of remarkable.

At the Public Safety Committee hearing on whether The City should adopt a sit-lie ordinance, people repeatedly brought up the notion that such a law would be unconstitutional. Indeed, sometimes such laws have been struck down, but now that Mistermayor has released an actual proposal, we can check out whether it’s lawful.

Of course, for us lawyers, it’s impossible to give a yes or no answer. Complications are to lawyers what splinters are to carpenters, but I’ll do my best.

The sit-lie law proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom prohibits sitting or lying down on public sidewalks anywhere in The City between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily, with certain exceptions. As it’s written, it could survive a legal challenge, but it’s a little broad. If a city is going to prohibit a type of regular behavior like sitting, it generally needs to be limited to just what’s necessary to accomplish the stated goal (in this case, the goals are safety and “economic vitality”). That the proposed ban would be citywide and in effect until 11 p.m. may cause a problem.

Indeed, Mistermayor’s proposal is modeled after a Seattle law that has withstood constitutional challenges at the state and federal levels. However, Seattle’s law only applies to commercial zones and is only in effect from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. I suspect San Francisco’s will be amended thusly before all is said and done.

You know, because we wouldn’t want to do anything illegal (ahem).

Iffy data fuels legislation to block garages

Supervisor David Chiu’s proposal to limit the ability of property owners in the Chinatown, North Beach and Telegraph Hill neighborhoods to install garages cleared its first hurdle Tuesday during the Board of Supervisors meeting, where it passed on the first reading. 

Presently, most property owners in the area are entitled to one parking spot per residential unit. Applying for a permit to install a garage is therefore pretty simple. Chiu’s legislation would make owners get a conditional use permit before building a garage on their property. In other words: Bye-bye, simple process; hello, headache.

It gets better, though. This is not just any old conditional use process. Under the new law, if there has been a “no fault” eviction at the property within the past 10 years, you don’t get a permit.

Chiu likes to cite a “study” done by the Chinatown Community Development Center showing that, since 2007, there have been 101 evictions of rent-controlled units where the owner installed a garage and converted the property into a tenancy-in-common. Of those 101, 68 are alleged to be in the Chinatown, North Beach and Telegraph Hill neighborhoods. This is supposed to justify the special conditional use process.

However, Planning Department folks don’t think there have been nearly that many garage permits given out in the past five years in those districts. Where does the 68 figure come from? Despite questioning, no one at the center is talking.

Luckily, supervisors don’t require verifiable data to justify passing a law in our fair city.

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Melissa Griffin

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