Sit-Lie Dog and Pony Show

Written by Greg Kamin. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on March 02, 2010 with 10 Comments


A homeless man in the Tenderloin could be subject to a maximum 30 days imprisonment
if a proposed sit-lie ordinance is passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Photos by Luke Thomas

By Greg Kamin

March 2, 2010

San Francisco Supervisors David Chiu, Ross Mirkarimi, and Bevan Dufty held a hearing yesterday on a proposed sit-lie ordinance during a meeting of the Public Safety Committee. For me, the most powerful moment in over four hours of testimony was one that probably passed almost unnoticed for most people. Representatives from the police and the district attorney’s office had just finished over 100 minutes of testimony during which time they got all the time they wanted to tell the supervisors how they all thought this would be the greatest thing since sliced bread. SFPD Chief George Gascón was a no-show, but Assistant Chief Kevin Cashman was ready with a slick PowerPoint presentation (more on that later), followed by a parade of captains in full regalia whose sole purpose seemed to be to show solidarity across the SFPD, as if this was ever in doubt.


Mister and Missus SFPD Chief George Gascón.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi, the sole city official to speak in opposition to the proposal, presented a different perspective. Barely 10 minutes later, in the interests of moving things along, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said, “You should start wrapping up because we have a lot of people who want to speak.” It was perfectly innocuous. It was said without any intended disrespect. It was just to move things along to give other people a chance to speak. That’s all.

One might chalk it up to mere coincidence that out of nearly 2 1/2 hours of official testimony, not counting public comment, the only person told to “wrap it up” was the one person who gave less than 15 minutes of testimony in opposition. No one else was told to “wrap it up” before or after his testimony. And there was testimony after, including a rebuttal of Adachi’s testimony by Cashman, at the behest of Supervisor Bevan Dufty, which lasted nearly as long as Adachi’s whole time at the podium. No one told Cashman to “wrap it up.”

I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to single out Supervisor Mirkarimi. Of the three supes in the room, he actually asked the most extensive and pertinent questions. But that one exchange is a perfect illustration of the inherent institutional deference given to law enforcement throughout all layers of government. My guess is that Mirkarimi wasn’t even aware of his subconscious bias. It simply does not occur to anyone to tell a uniformed assistant chief to “please wrap it up.” And you’ll see that same internalized institutional bias whether in the Board of Supes, the Police Commission, or a court of law. And that’s exactly why it’s so frightening to give the police a massive blank check.

The Blank Check

After listening to the police PowerPoint presentation, it became clear that a blank check is exactly what they were asking for. The supposed rationale for this law is a host of alleged “associated criminal activity” committed by youths who congregate in the Haight and other parts of the city, such as “assault, battery, malicious mischief/vandalism, theft, robbery, threats, extortion, and public drunkenness.” But this begs the question, and Mirkarimi asked it, “Isn’t this already illegal, and aren’t existing laws adequate if they are actually used?” Apparently not.

For example, under the city’s “Aggressive Solicitation Ban,” 120-2 MPC, the problem is that the “violator must act in a manner defined as aggressive…” Now when this law was debated, the hysteria whipped up was over the supposedly threatening behavior of some homeless panhandlers. The whole point was that peaceful panhandlers who just sat there asking for a quarter wouldn’t be targeted. Now we’re hearing that the aggressive solicitation ban is not enough. This is the slippery slope in motion, right before our eyes.

Under 22 MPC, which prohibits obstructing the sidewalk, the “problem” is that the passageway has to be “substantially blocked by the person of the violator,” and either an officer has to observe the act or a third party has to complain. So let me get this straight… they want to arrest people who nobody complains about and who aren’t actually blocking anything? For a minute, I wasn’t sure which country I was living in. Is this Iran? Burma?

Simply put, this law allows cops wide discretion to arrest people for doing basically nothing at all, completely at will. What surprised me was how clearly this was stated in the chief’s own PowerPoint presentation. Ominous for its crystal clarity, one particularly Orwellian slide entitled “Customized for Our City” showed a crowd of happy people on the Golden Gate Bridge, with a series of captions about the law including, “Enables Preventative Intervention, Before Accident or Crime Occurs.” To emphasize the point, Cashman said that unlike other laws which focus on criminal acts, this would “prevent a criminal act from occurring in the first place.”

Basically “pre-crime,” like in the movie, Minority Report.

Not quite the Minority Report, just some profiling of minorities…

In the brief time that Public Defender Jeff Adachi had to present a rebuttal, he made it clear exactly what this law would entail:

-Makes it a crime to merely sit or lie on the sidewalk

-Makes it a crime to leave any object on the sidewalk, unless it’s within 2 feet of the person’s nearest foot

-Makes it a crime to have any animal unleashed, or if leashed, more than 2 feet from the person

To that end, he showed some very effective slides which challenged our prejudices and made it clear that prejudice would be the only thing separating you from county jail. Two kids with punk haircuts sitting and talking – violators of this law. So is a well-dressed shopper sitting on her suitcase waiting for someone. So is the owner of a dog tied to a meter (most likely while the owner is shopping at a local business). So are the owners of a set of strollers left outside a neighborhood store. So are some people at a sidewalk cafe with their dog leashed to the chair and lying some distance away on the sidewalk.

Obviously, anyone would say that none of the latter folks are ever going to get targeted. And that’s exactly what makes this law so arbitrary and discriminatory. It relies entirely on the officer’s judgment about what kind of a person will, or will not, commit a crime sometime in the future. And this judgment will be based on what? Skin color? Age? Gender? Type of clothes? Number of tattoos and body piercings? Or maybe just how the officer happens to feel about your “attitude” that day.

From there, a first offense is an infraction with no right to a jury trial or public defender (though the police claimed that they will give warnings first). A second offense is a misdemeanor and 10 days in jail, which means a criminal record and diminished hope of ever finding a job. A third offense is a misdemeanor punished by up to 30 days in jail.

The media circus

What prompted the need for such a draconian response? In one pointed exchange, Supervisor Mirkarimi asked Cashman how the need for this law at this time is reconciled with statistics which show crime and arrests are not increasing. Assistant Chief Cashman had no answer, saying he hasn’t looked at the statistics! Too busy preparing for the PowerPoint presentation, I presume. Nevertheless, he was certain that this was a result of “grassroots” outcry from Haight residents in support of this legislation.

Well, there certainly was an “outcry” of sorts in the pages of the Chronicle and the Examiner. As Robert Haaland said during public comment, “C.W, Nevius would make FOX news blush.”

The Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, a group of local conservatives, certainly did its best to drum up support, getting several local businessmen and homeowners to speak on behalf of the legislation. Political consultant Tom Hsieh Jr. spoke in favor, aided by a slide-show of children to underscore that this was all for them. Local Republican Party activist Chris Bowman was in the room, as was Arthur Evans sporting an ironic “Harvey Milk” pin. Ironic, because Harvey Milk fought to repeal an earlier incarnation of this law, which became a vehicle for the police to target gay men. He finally got his wish in 1980, a year after his assassination. Harvey would be turning over in his grave.

Overall, though, in spite of the frenzy that the media whipped up for weeks, public comment was balanced virtually 50-50. Other Haight residents expressed fear that this law could be used to wipe out the Haight’s vibrant culture of street musicians and other unique characters. I, myself, mentioned the law is so broad that it could be applied to protesters, union members on strike, or petitioners who couldn’t otherwise be arrested under the First Amendment. Several members of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council expressed their individual opposition to the proposed law and that of the organization’s. Jim Segal knocked my socks off with his testimony. As a businessman and former moderate candidate for D5 Supervisor, I thought he would be in favor for sure. But instead he talked about how the real abuse that he witnessed in the neighborhood was coming mostly from the police. He provided multiple examples, from the two police cars that converged on some kids who were just buying ice cream and the cops yelling “Get the fuck off of Haight street!” to police shooting and killing someone’s dog in a children’s playground.

A way forward?

Perhaps the most productive comments were from those members of the public who offered alternatives which could alleviate the concerns of some Haight residents, while preserving that minor detail we call “civil rights.”

Erica Byrne mentioned the small benches that were recently installed in parts of the Tenderloin. The idea is that if people are congregating in ways that don’t allow others to pass, then give them a place to sit so that the rest of the sidewalk can be free.

Another resident called for studying the idea of making the whole space larger by blocking off car traffic in all or part of Haight Street, except for one lane in either direction for MUNI.

And of course there’s Mirkarimi’s idea of foot patrols, which he alluded to at several points.

To me, it makes no sense to plunge the city headfirst into a law of dubious constitutional legality, and near certain costly litigation which will rob the city of much-needed cash whether they win or lose, without trying non-punitive measures first. As we debate Sit-Lie here in San Francisco, a similar ordinance is being litigated in Palo Alto, and could well be overturned.

If the proponents of this law reject out of hand the idea that we should at least wait until the litigation is complete to give the city some constitutional guidance, one really has to question their motivation. Are they really concerned about “quality of life” in the Haight, or is this just, as Robert Halaand put it, “a slick marketing campaign that is designed to put something on the ballot” in order to create a wedge issue in November?

Progressives should call their bluff, and they should do it now. At a bare minimum, we need to wait for the constitutionality of the Palo Alto ordinance to be decided in the courts. In the meantime, we need to crystallize less punitive proposals that would address so-called quality of life issues and give those proposals a chance to work.

If the city’s conservatives balk at that and insist on a draconian, over-broad blank check for police as the only possible way to address their concerns, then we’ll know exactly what they’re trying to do, and that will put us in a stronger position when their high-powered consultants put that measure on the ballot.

Greg Kamin

Greg Kamin

San Franciscan by choice, not birth, Greg Kamin is an activist with a passion for civil liberties and issues of social and economic justice. He is a world traveler, foodie, and all-around experience-seeker, who chronicles his life with a point-and-shoot camera and occasionally writes when feeling particularly inspired.

More Posts

  • Ruth R. Snave

    Thank you, Greg Kamin, for your detailed report on yesterday’s hearing at the supes on the proposed sit-lie law. As I know from personal experience, it takes a lot of time and work to cover a long meeting, go over notes, and write an article. So we are all indebted to you for your efforts.

    Some responses follow –

    You say:

    “One might chalk it up to mere coincidence that out of nearly 2 1/2 hours of official testimony, not counting public comment, the only person told to ‘wrap it up’ was the one person [Jeff Adachi] who gave less than 15 minutes of testimony in opposition.”

    You are inclined to see conspiracies where there are none. Ross Mirkarimi, who made the comment in question to Jeff Adachi, is not friend of the sit-lie law.

    Mirkarimi repeatedly made hostile comments, and raised hostile questions, about the measure. Much of the commentary by police during the earlier part of the meeting was made in response to Mirkarimi’s comments and questions.

    To the best of my knowledge, Adachi himself has not complained about his reception at the committee. Have you heard otherwise?

    You say:

    “that one exchange [between Mirkarimi and Adachi] is a perfect illustration of the inherent institutional deference given to law enforcement throughout all layers of government.”

    Mirkarimi was not deferential to the police who testified. He challenged nearly every point they made. That’s why their testimony took so long.

    You say:

    “that’s exactly why it’s so frightening to give the police a massive blank check.”

    No one is proposing giving the police a massive blank check.

    You say:

    “The supposed rationale for this law is a host of alleged ‘associated criminal activity’ committed by youths who congregate in the Haight and other parts of the city …”

    I live at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. I have the situation in front of my face every day. The problem is not just “youths,” as you claim. What part of the Haight do you live in?

    You say, quoting Ross Mirkarimi:

    “aren’t existing laws adequate if they are actually used?”

    Police may not legally direct people who are blocking the sidewalk to move along unless there is a formal complaint from a civilian. That’s the problem.

    You say:

    “Is this Iran? Burma?”

    Oh please, let’s be serious.

    You say:

    “Simply put, this law allows cops wide discretion to arrest people for doing basically nothing at all, completely at will.”

    False. The law will allow police to stop individuals and groups from colonizing public spaces for their own use, to the exclusion of others.

    You say:

    “In the brief time that Public Defender Jeff Adachi had to present a rebuttal, he made it clear exactly what this law would entail: -Makes it a crime to merely sit or lie on the sidewalk.”

    False, as Assistant Chief Kevin Cashman immediately pointed out. Anyone sitting or lying on the sidewalk will be given a warning. Only after repeated offenses will any citations come into play.

    The sit-lie law basically enables police to tell sidewalk squatters to move along. Even Mike Hennessy, the sheriff, who runs the jail, said he doubted that there would be any increase in prisoners, should the law be passed.

    You say:

    “[The law] Makes it a crime to leave any object on the sidewalk, unless it’s within 2 feet of the person’s nearest foot…”

    Adachi was also mistaken on this point. The measure, which was just submitted by the mayor to the supes, contains no such provision.

    You say:

    “It relies entirely on the officer’s judgment about what kind of a person will, or will not, commit a crime sometime in the future.”

    False. It merely gives the police a means of keeping people from blocking the sidewalk.

    You say:

    “From there, a first offense is an infraction with no right to a jury trial or public defender (though the police claimed that they will give warnings first).”

    The law specifically requires that a warning must be given first, with no citation for the first offense.

    You say:

    “The Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, a group of local conservatives, certainly did its best to drum up support …”

    I got a good laugh out of that one. How many meetings of HAIA have you attended? How many members have you spoken to? Do you even live in the Haight? You’re not at your best as a reporter when you just make things up.

    You say:

    “Harvey Milk fought to repeal an earlier incarnation of this law…”

    I knew Harvey. He was a big supporter of neighborhood safety. A sit-lie law is needed today to for the sake of neighborhood safety.

    You say:

    “Local Republican Party activist Chris Bowman was in the room…”

    Shocking! Say it ain’t so! Too bad you couldn’t keep him out, right?

    You say:

    “public comment was balanced virtually 50-50”

    However, a poll, just released, says that 71% of San Francisco voters favor the measure.

    You say:

    “Several members of the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council expressed their individual opposition to the proposed law …”

    HANC has degenerated into a vestigial, fake organization. A few years ago, I went to a public meeting called by HANC to discuss a public issue. There were about 40 people in the room.

    As part of the meeting, HANC elected 14 members to their board. They asked that only HANC members vote. There were 13 votes in the room.

    The current prez of HANC is Joey Cain. Some years ago, when I started beating the drum for public safety in the Haight, this same Joey Cain organized a counter-demonstration to my efforts.

    He led a group called “Radical Faeries of the Haight” down Haight Street, where they handed out handfuls of free marijuana joints to the street people flopped out on the sidewalk. They said that this was their solution to the problem.

    This was a totally absurd action. The street people sell marijuana in order to pay for crack, speed, and heroin for themselves.

    No one should be surprised today to find Joey Cain leading HANC. They are a perfect fit.

    You say:

    “Jim Segal knocked my socks off with his testimony. As a businessman and former moderate candidate for D5 Supervisor, I thought he would be in favor for sure. But instead he talked about how the real abuse that he witnessed in the neighborhood was coming mostly from the police.”

    Your forgot to mention the business that is run by this businessman. Some years back, he bought a small neighborhood grocery store on Haight Street, one of the few such stores on the street at the time, and turned it into a head shop for selling marijuana paraphernalia, mostly to young people.

    When other head shops starting flocking into the area, he organized a protest against them because they were providing too much competition to his own head shop.

    A great contribution to the neighborhood, huh?

    You say:

    “Erica Byrne mentioned the small benches [as an alternative] that were recently installed in parts of the Tenderloin.”

    Have you ever visited Haight Street? It is one of the most park-and-bench-rich parts of the city – Golden Gate Park, the Panhandle, Buena Vista Park.

    You say:

    “And of course there’s Mirkarimi’s idea of foot patrols…”

    The police have testified that the sit-lie law would greatly improve the efficacy of foot patrols.

    You say:

    “it makes no sense to plunge the city headfirst into a law of dubious constitutional legality”

    The sit-lie law of Seattle is the model for San Francisco’s. The constitutionality of Seattle’s law was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes San Francisco.

    You say:

    “Are they [the law’s supporters] really concerned about ‘quality of life’ in the Haight, or is this just, as Robert Halaand put it, ‘a slick marketing campaign that is designed to put something on the ballot’ in order to create a wedge issue in November?”

    If the Supes attempt to thwart this law as they attempted to thwart Care Not Cash, it will go to the ballot box and be approved by the voters, just like Care Not Cash.

    Some people never learn.

  • Erika McDonald

    Good piece, Greg.

    The sit/lie ordinance targets everyone! If you sit on the sidewalk to wait for a bus, you could be slapped with a $100 fine. The police say they will use ‘common sense’ when enforcing the law, but doesn’t common sense dictate that they enforce laws that already exist? I have been victimized in this city, and therefore know first-hand that the SFPD does not have a good record on investigating robberies and assaults.

    Ross did a great job of facilitating the hearing. I think his foot patrols solution is far superior to any sit/lie law.

  • Nate Miller

    Greg.

    Thanks for your excellent testimony on Monday and this article to follow up. I look forwards to the fight at the Board and inevitably in November.

  • greg kamin

    Thanks for your comments Arthur. Some responses to the points you made:

    “You are inclined to see conspiracies where there are none. Ross Mirkarimi, who made the comment in question to Jeff Adachi, is not friend of the sit-lie law.
    Mirkarimi repeatedly made hostile comments, and raised hostile questions, about the measure.”

    I think I made it abundantly clear that there is no “conspiracy.” What there is, is an institutional bias in the thinking that permeates all levels of government. This bias is internalized by public officials, and exists in officials of all political persuasions. Do you understand the difference between that, and a “conspiracy?”

    As for Ross, you tend to see hostility where there is none. Ross’s questions were insightful, pertinent, skeptical… but hostile? I did not detect one single note of hostility.

    “To the best of my knowledge, Adachi himself has not complained about his reception at the committee. Have you heard otherwise?”

    Adachi is a class act. He’s not one to complain about unfair treatment. But his graciousness is not the issue.

    “No one is proposing giving the police a massive blank check.”

    I think the column makes it clear how they are. I don’t need to repeat the points I made here.

    “I live at the corner of Haight and Ashbury. I have the situation in front of my face every day. The problem is not just “youths,” as you claim. What part of the Haight do you live in?”

    I don’t reside there and never claimed to. I’m not lucky enough to have a rent controlled apartment on the corner of Haight and Ashbury. But if I could afford to live there, I would. I love the neighborhood and all of its diverse characters. I shop at Amoeba, where the problem is supposedly at its worst, all the time (including evenings). I’ve never had a problem with any of the kids there, and many of your neighbors, mostly women incidentally, got up to the podium to say that they feel perfectly safe there as well. I’m sorry that your experience is different from mine or from that of your neighbors, and we need to strive to make sure that everyone can feel as safe as possible. But we need to do it in a way that doesn’t violate people’s rights or destroy the character of the neighborhood.

    “False, as Assistant Chief Kevin Cashman immediately pointed out. Anyone sitting or lying on the sidewalk will be given a warning. Only after repeated offenses will any citations come into play.”

    As you’re aware, there is no law at this point. Whether or not a warning requirement can be written into law, and how soon after a warning the cops can arrest someone -that’s all up in the air. But there’s a larger issue here. Adachi brought up many examples of people who can technically be violators of this law. -tourists, shoppers, dog owners, people just hanging out and talking. Yes, the Chronicle itself quoted Cashman as saying that all these people will be given warnings first. But Arthur, here’s the thing -I don’t WANT tourists, shoppers and residents to be given “warnings” for just sitting down and talking, regardless if they’re dressed in Gucci or punk attire! People who are just sitting and talking should be left alone by the police.

    “I knew Harvey. He was a big supporter of neighborhood safety. A sit-lie law is needed today to for the sake of neighborhood safety.”

    I support neighborhood safety too. So does Ross. So did Harvey. But not at the cost of basic human rights. That’s why Harvey campaigned for years against the very same type of law, incidentally during a time when the Haight was in much worse shape than it is in now. To insinuate that Harvey would be in favor of a sit-lie law, when he fought for years for its repeal, is to spit on his memory.

    “Shocking! Say it ain’t so! Too bad you couldn’t keep him out, right?”

    Referring to Republican party activist Chris Bowman, I merely wanted to draw attention where some of the support for the sit-lie law is coming from. Republicans are few in number in the City, but their financial backing will be crucial. Surely you don’t deny that the Republican Party will be on board with this law.

    “However, a poll, just released, says that 71% of San Francisco voters favor the measure.”

    I think the Chamber of Commerce poll is inaccurate. Even CNC got only 60%, and that was billed as a “compassionate measure.” Aggressive panhandling ban got 55%, but at least the rationale , however flawed, was that we’re going after only “aggressive” panhandlers. Here, you’re making a blanket law to target ANYONE sitting on the sidewalk. I think voters are showing diminishing tolerance toward these punitive measures, and when they find out what the implications are, I don’t think it will even achieve the level of support that previous anti-homeless measures achieved. That said, I think it will be close.

    More to the point, however, I think it will be absolutely crushed in the Haight. Which is ironic, because your support will come from Republicans, and places like the Marina, the Sunset, and Twin Peaks, but the neighborhood that it’s allegedly trying to help will decisively reject it.

    “Your forgot to mention the business that is run by this businessman. Some years back, he bought a small neighborhood grocery store on Haight Street, one of the few such stores on the street at the time, and turned it into a head shop for selling marijuana paraphernalia, mostly to young people.
    When other head shops starting flocking into the area, he organized a protest against them because they were providing too much competition to his own head shop.”

    That’s a really biased view of a legitimate business, but look, no one is saying elect this guy Supervisor! What I hope reasonable people can agree on, however -even moderate/conservative types like yourself, is that the police do sometimes overstep their authority. I was glad that someone pointed out clear cut examples of what I hope everyone can recognize as abuse. And it came from someone who no one can accuse of being a radical.

    “Have you ever visited Haight Street? It is one of the most park-and-bench-rich parts of the city – Golden Gate Park, the Panhandle, Buena Vista Park.”

    Not in the commercial district, where it’s needed most.

    “The police have testified that the sit-lie law would greatly improve the efficacy of foot patrols.”
    “The sit-lie law of Seattle is the model for San Francisco’s. The constitutionality of Seattle’s law was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes San Francisco.”

    The key here is to increase the efficacy WITHOUT violating people’s rights. That’s the component that the backers of this ordinance don’t get. A similar ordinance is being litigated in Palo Alto. It can be litigated under both federal (ie, 9th Circuit), AND state courts. The Seattle law was NOT subjected to California courts.

    So the reasonable thing to do would be to 1) Wait for these other laws to wind their way through the courts, and 2) Try less punitive measures first and see if they work.

    The proponents of this law are saying, “NO, do it NOW! Right NOW! NO waiting! NO compromise! Only the most extreme measure will do!” And I’m just saying that it all looks very fishy.

  • Ruth R. Snave

    Thanks, Greg, for your additional thoughts above. We both agree that this is an important issue that deserves thorough discussion. I hope the debate continues and with much publicity.

    Some responses follow.

    You say in regard to Ross Mirkarimi’s treatment of Jeff Adachi, at Monday’s hearing:

    “This bias [of being differential to police] is internalized by public officials, and exists in officials of all political persuasions.”

    I’ve never seen Mirkarimi show deference to police. Quite the contrary.

    My own guess is that Mirkarimi tried to hasten Adachi along because Mirkarimi sees Adachi as a potential rival for mayor and doesn’t want to give him a big stage for his act.

    You say:

    “Ross’s questions [about the sit-lie law] were insightful, pertinent, skeptical… but hostile?”

    I wouldn’t feel they were hostile if Mirkarimi had said even one thing in favor of the law or acknowledged the need to contain the street thugs of the Haight. He did neither.

    You say:

    “Adachi is a class act.”

    Not last Monday, he wasn’t. He got the facts wrong about the proposed law.

    You say:

    “we need to strive to make sure that everyone can feel as safe as possible. But we need to do it in a way that doesn’t violate people’s rights or destroy the character of the neighborhood.”

    The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court, whose jurisdiction includes San Francisco, ruled that Seattle’s sit-lie law does not violate anyone’s rights. SF’s law will be based on Seattle’s.

    Violence is not part of the character of the Haight. The street thugs who now swagger around the neighborhood are not the flower children of the 60s.

    You say:

    “Whether or not a warning requirement can be written into law, and how soon after a warning the cops can arrest someone -that’s all up in the air.”

    The text of the law is in the hands of the board of supes. It requires that a warning shall be given first to anyone violating the law.

    You say:

    “Adachi brought up many examples of people who can technically be violators of this law.”

    Only a few of his examples involved people blocking the sidewalk. That’s the issue here.

    You say:

    “Yes, the Chronicle itself quoted Cashman as saying that all these people will be given warnings first.”

    Cashman did in fact say that. I was present at the meeting when he did so.

    You say:

    “I don’t WANT tourists, shoppers and residents to be given ‘warnings’ for just sitting down and talking, regardless if they’re dressed in Gucci or punk attire!”

    Click here:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/03/03/BAO61CABF1.DTL

    You say:

    “I support neighborhood safety too. So does Ross. So did Harvey. But not at the cost of basic human rights.”

    As mentioned above, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has said something about this question.

    You say:

    “To insinuate that Harvey would be in favor of a sit-lie law, when he fought for years for its repeal, is to spit on his memory.”

    The law that formerly existed here is different from the one now before the supes.

    I have personally witnessed horrific homophobic behavior on the part of the Haight’s street punks. Harvey would not make excuses for them. And neither should you.

    You say:

    “Surely you don’t deny that the Republican Party will be on board with this law.”

    So?

    “I think the Chamber of Commerce poll is inaccurate.”

    Which parts of its methodology do you question?

    I remember when our local progressive sect also scoffed at polls that showed that Care Not Cash would win.

    You say:

    “I think it [the sit-lie law] will be absolutely crushed in the Haight.”

    I will write down this prediction for future reference.

    A big train is headed your way, Greg, as you stand there on the tracks, and you are completely oblivious of it.

    You say:

    “What I hope reasonable people can agree on, however -even moderate/conservative types like yourself …”

    I am not a moderate or a conservative but an equal-opportunity skeptic.

    I was critical of the moderates under Mayor Dianne Feinstein when they tried to subvert the legacy of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. And I’m critical of the progressives today, now that they have turned into a doctrinaire sect tied to the ambitions of cheesy politicians.

    You say:

    “A similar ordinance is being litigated in Palo Alto.”

    Guess you missed the news. Palo Alto’s law was ruled to be constitutional.

    You say:

    “The proponents of this law are saying, “NO, do it NOW!”

    I’ve been working for neighborhood safety in the Haight for decades. Haven’t seen you at any of those meetings.

  • greg kamin

    Arthur, obviously we disagree. Let me just correct one point. Palo Alto’s law was not exactly “ruled constitutional.” One judge denied Mr. Frost’s challenge on the ground that the challenge was made. In the ruling, however, the judge explicitly stated that the law could be challenged on other grounds, but Mr. Frost would have to bring up those grounds in a separate lawsuit. Most likely he will. The ruling itself can also be appealed, and almost certainly will. This isn’t over by a longshot.

    The Seattle law is quite different and much more narrowly defined than San Francisco’s, at least the proposal that Newsom has put forward now. But again, the Seattle law wasn’t subject to California courts. A similar law was ruled unconstitutional in Oregon. More to the point, the “sit” portion of Berkeley’s sit/lie law was already struck down by the courts in California.

    Aside from the constitutional issue, there is of course the moral issue. Every law is “different” in some minor legalistic way. But the basic concept of these types of laws is the same. They’re all overbroad laws that punish behavior which would not otherwise be criminal. And being as overbroad as they are, they are wide open to abuse. No matter how much the police swear up and down that they won’t target protesters, street performers, tourists (by the way, tourists can wear punk attire and have tatooes and piercings as well), gays, and whatever other group they don’t like at the moment… there is nothing stopping them or some future police department from interpreting the law that way. And we’ve been there. That’s what Harvey Milk fought against. He didn’t fight to tweak the law a little here and there so that it targets only the scruffy people. He fought to repeal the thing, because the whole concept is antithetical to free society.

  • Ruth R. Snave

    Greg, you say:

    “Palo Alto’s law was not exactly ‘ruled constitutional.’ One judge denied Mr. Frost’s challenge on the ground that the challenge was made. In the ruling, however, the judge explicitly stated that the law could be challenged on other grounds…”

    Laws can always be challenged. All you need to do is file a suit.

    The bottom line here is that a number of sit-lie laws in various jurisdictions have survived constitutional challenges so far.

    You say:

    “the Seattle law wasn’t subject to California courts. A similar law was ruled unconstitutional in Oregon.”

    Oregon is not subject to California courts.

    You say:

    “the ‘sit’ portion of Berkeley’s sit/lie law was already struck down by the courts in California.”

    False. Berkeley politicians volunteered to take out the “sit” part when faced with a possible lawsuit. Let’s hope SF politicians have more backbone.

    You say:

    “They’re all [the sit-lie laws] overbroad laws that punish behavior which would not otherwise be criminal.”

    False. They all recognize that the migratory packs of addicts and alcoholics are not isolated individuals. They are parts of an aggressive, turf-grabbing subculture rooted in a celebration of addiction and a refusal of services.

    They same arguments now being raised against the sit-lie laws were originally raised against the anti-racketeering laws that were passed to fight organized crime. The opponents in both cases overlook the group nature of the offenders and the underlying turf battle.

    You say:

    “And we’ve been there. That’s what Harvey Milk fought against.”

    You are on shaky grounds when you accept Tommi Avicolli Mecca’s accounts of Harvey Milk’s life and record. Mecca’s accounts are second-hand, and he himself is excitable, given to exaggeration, and prone to confusing rhetoric with reality. I know from personal experience that nothing he says can be accepted as fact without independent corroboration.

    Here’s something I personally witnessed on Haight Street. You tell me how you think Harvey Milk would have reacted –

    Two young, thin gay men were walking down Haight Street on a beautiful, sunny afternoon, holding hands and having a wonderful day.

    They passed a small group of sidewalk squatters. Unknown to them, one of them got up and started stalking them from behind. He was a white male, about forty years of age, big, beefy, with long blond-brown hair, and drunk out of his mind.

    He gained speed, ran up in front of the two gay guys, spat in the face of one of them, and yelled “Faggot! I hope you die from AIDS!”

    The two gay guys ran away in shock and horror.

  • greg kamin

    It sounds like what the guy in your example did is already illegal. Spitting in their face is assault. They should have gone to the nearest cop. Maybe there should be more cops on foot patrol. But I do not support harassing people who are *just* sitting on the sidewalk, and neither would Harvey.

    Your character attacks on Tommi Avicolli Mecca obscure the basic fact that Harvey Milk fought to repeal the sit law. Not tweak it. Not change it so that it applies only to scruffy people he doesn’t like and not to gays. To repeal it. Tommi is not the only one who remembers this.

    Rather than attack Tommi’s character and obfuscate the issue, why don’t you tell me straight up -did Harvey Milk fight to repeal the sit/lie law, or did he not?

  • Ruth R. Snave

    Greg,

    You say:

    “Maybe there should be more cops on foot patrol.”

    The sit-lie law would give a needed tool to foot patrols. Under the present system, if the police had encountered this particular group of sidewalk squatters, they could not have legally directed them to move along in the absence of a formal complaint from a civilian.

    The likelihood of such incidents as this would be less if they police could act on their own.

    You say:

    “why don’t you tell me straight up -did Harvey Milk fight to repeal the sit/lie law, or did he not?”

    To the best of my recollection, the big fight over the city’s old sit-lie law took place, and the measure was repealed, several years after Harvey Milk was assassinated.

    Harvey may have been critical of the old law. However, I don’t recall that he ever led a fight to repeal it. If he did, it didn’t make much of an impression on his contemporaries. His big concern was to fight the Briggs Initiative.

    I don’t think Harvey would make excuses for the homophobic street thugs on Haight Street today. He encouraged us to stand up and fight back. A sit-lie law is a rational form of fighting back.

  • Ruth R. Snave

    The Police Commission will again hold a hearing on the proposed sit-lie law:

    WEDNESDAY, MARCH 10, 2010
    5:30 P.M.
    CITY HALL, ROOM 400
    Item #4 on the agenda.

    Many of us residents have gone to meeting after meeting on this issue. However, we can’t let up. Homelessness Inc has the resources to pack meetings. If we residents don’t match their presence, we will lose the battle by default.

    The politicians are walking on egg shells on this issue. Only one elected official has come out in support – Mayor Gavin Newsom, and then only after he was shamed into finally visiting the neighborhood. (Previously, there were more sightings of Jerry Garcia on Haight St. than the Hizonor.)

    Only one elected official has come out against – Public Defender Jeff Adachi. He may once again show up, armed with his flashy traveling slide show. (Lights! Camera! Adachi!)

    So the tide of battle could still turn either way. Let’s do our best to have it turn to the advantage of our neighborhoods.