Last week Mayor Gavin Newsom submitted a new piece of legislation to the Board of Supervisors: a citywide ban on sitting or lying on public sidewalks, including in front of your house. He introduced the legislation in response to the harassment of pedestrians and merchants by street persons, especially the harassing that takes place in the Haight on a daily basis. Similar ordinances are in effect in other cities, including Santa Cruz, Seattle, Wash., and Austin, Texas. The legislation consists of the following:
• No sitting or lying on sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
• Dogs cannot be more than 2 feet away from owner when stationary
• Offenders must be warned first
• Upon first conviction, fines of $50 to $100 or community service
• Upon second violation, 10 days in jail or a fine of $300 to 500 or both.
• Third and subsequent violations would be subject up to $500 fine and 30 days in jail • Areas could include most commercial districts • Restrictions from placing or leaving an object on a side walk” unless the object is in hand or with two feet of the person’s nearest foot Added last minute to the legislation was a provision requiring the Police Department to report on its enforcement of the law to both the board and the mayor within a year of its implementation.
Some might say that the homeless are being used as political scapegoats and that this is an effort to begin criminalizing homelessness. And some may say that it will cost taxpayers millions of dollars to defend before it overturned like the one in Portland or that it could be a great success like similar programs in Seattle, Santa Cruz, and Austin. Some might say what a joke it is to give homeless people a citation they can’t pay or send them to jail as punishment. Would a cold, hungry person consider going to jail a punishment or a relief? If you think about it, under this sit/lie law, jail would simply become a place where a homeless person can receive free shelter and food (without needing to make appointment!). Jail would become like another branch of social services, and the police would become like social workers, taxing clients from the streets to shelter, then back to the streets. Brilliant! Here at the Brod Law Firm we believe homelessness is, essentially, a national issue, not just a state or city issue, and, despite the mayor’s efforts to fix the problem, there really is no easy fix.