Civil Sidewalks vs. Civil Rights
The San Francisco “sit-lie” ordinance, rejected by the Board of Supervisors then placed on the November 2010 ballot and passed with 53.4% of the votes, restricts lying or sitting on sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. anywhere in The City. Police must first give a warning before issuing citations--a $100 ticket, while subsequent offenses may result in higher fines and/or 30 days in jail. Common sense exceptions are enumerated, such as waiting in line for tickets or food vendors.
The law went into effect on December 17th, but enforcement will not begin until February. The San Francisco Police Department wants time to train its officers and solicit public input.
San Francisco is not the first to enact a sit-lie law. Liberal cities like Seattle, Santa Cruz, and Palo Alto have versions. The San Francisco law is similar to one in the most liberal bastion of the “Left” Coast, Berkeley.
Opponents see not only a “war on the homeless,” immigrants and non-conformists, but also a conspiracy by banks and real estate interests to pave the way for gentrification. There are sufficient laws on the books to cover abuses, they say. During the election campaign, lemonade stand and ice cream-eating sit-ins were used to protest.
For those who support the law, the typical abuser for which the restriction will apply is a young “Mad Max thug” accompanied by his pit bill. This profile provided the impetus for the ordinance. Ground zero was the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.
Historically, panhandlers in the The City could be aggressive or “crazy” or both, but few citizens demanded additional laws. Young hippie-type street people have been a presence, especially in Haight-Ashbury, for over a generation. They are regarded as more of a nuisance than a menace.
The situation changed when a significant part of the street population morphed into the “Mad Max” road warrior persona. Their often aggressive and hostile panhandling behavior frightened neighbors and merchants alike. When local stores were affected, City Hall saw red flags. One supervisor said the new law wouldn’t solve all the problems, “but right now our small businesses are hurting. What sit-lie does is help businesses flourish.”
When Mayor Gavin Newsom moved his family to the Haight and experienced the situation first-hand, the sit-lie ball really got rolling. The new San Francisco police chief, who arrived from Los Angeles where a similar ordinance is vigorously applied, lobbied for the proposal.
The effect and acceptance of sit-lie will depend almost entirely on the wisdom of execution. To paraphrase Shakespeare: “Tis no law either good nor bad, but enforcement makes it so.”