It’s easy to find opponents of the city’s proposed sit /lie ordinance in San Francisco. This past Saturday, April 24, dozens of them organized over Facebook, inviting people to join in on events like drag shows, barbecues, and board game matches, all out on the sidewalk. The law’s proponents, meanwhile, haven’t been quite as visible since the great sit/lie debate began. But yesterday, April 28, the Guardian attended a press conference at the Tenderloin Police Station hosted by citizens who back the controversial law against sitting or lying down on the sidewalk.
The press conference was organized by a Tenderloin organization called the Community Leadership Alliance, led by David Villalobos, and billed as residents of the Haight and the Tenderloin standing together in support of the law. Six people offered comments, while eight others (including a police captain and six representatives from C-Two Hotels) stood there but didn't say anything.
The star speaker was Arthur Evans, a vociferous supporter who says he has lived at the corner of Haight and Ashbury for 35 years (for a very detailed description of Evans’ opinion, you can browse the comment forums of Guardian articles on sit /lie). He characterized the idea that the law “criminalizes sitting on the sidewalk” as false, since the ordinance provides for issuing warnings before citations.
To us, it still sounds like the ordinance criminalizes sitting on the sidewalk. The text reads: “In the City and County of San Francisco, during the hours between seven a.m. and 11 p.m., it is unlawful to sit or lie down upon a public sidewalk, or upon a blanket, chair, stool, or any other object placed on a public sidewalk.”
Evans also charged that critics’ representations of the law as “an attack on the homeless” are false, because based on his own surveys of the Haight's sidewalk occupants, he’s discovered that they did not become homeless in San Francisco at all. Instead, he’s determined that they are "migratory packs of addicts and alcoholics that move up and down the West Coast and look for places where there is weak law enforcement and an abundance of drugs.” (And here you thought they were troubled youths fleeing dysfunctional homes, drawn to historic icons of counterculture like the famous San Francisco intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets.)
Others who spoke included Edward Evans, a wheelchair-bound man who said seniors and disabled people should be able to “traverse our sidewalks in peace and harmony.” A woman from a new Tenderloin neighborhood group said she felt unsafe on the streets, and that the sit / lie ordinance “has nothing to do with human rights, but with human needs.” (The need to walk around on the sidewalk in peace, that is.) And Ted Loewenberg of the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association relayed a heart-wrenching story about a woman who, this one time, had to cross the street to get to her destination because she felt intimidated by people sitting on the sidewalk with their dogs and camping gear.
Another speaker was Community Leadership Alliance chair Scott Caroen, who runs a nightclub near the edge of the Tenderloin called the Infusion Lounge -- "catering to both dancing hipsters and young professionals looking to relax in style," according to its Web site. He said one of the main reasons he supports the ordinance is that “it may also reduce the overall homeless population in San Francisco, by discouraging people from coming to our city to beg for money.” Chatting with reporters after the press conference, Caroen -- a young, well-dressed guy with sandy blond hair -- noted that “tourists are shocked” by the behavior of people on the streets, and said his family members are just appalled by what they see in the Tenderloin when they come to visit. Caroen moved to San Francisco five years ago from Howell, Michigan (pop. 9,232), and said it took him awhile just to get comfortable walking down the city streets. “You get seasoned to it, you get hardened to it,” he said, adding that he, for one, has learned to not give money to panhandlers.
When we asked Caroen whether his group supports increased investment in homeless services, since that could help alleviate the problem of people sitting and lying in the streets with nowhere else to go, he said, “That’s a whole other topic.”
Tenderloin Police Station Captain Dominic Celaya was there in support, a representative from the mayor’s office came out, and C.W. Nevius made an appearance. Arthur Evans and Villalobos took jabs at Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly, who weren't there, saying they deserved no thanks for addressing this source of outrage. (Apparently, they haven’t heard that that Daly has proposed his own ban on lying on the sidewalk.) Some politicians got the recognition they deserved, however, as Villalobos lauded Mayor Gavin Newsom as “one of the finest mayors we’ve ever had.” So there.
We have met the proponents of sit / lie, and we can safely say that they are not having as much fun on the city sidewalks as the law’s opponents.