Tensions Rise over Sit/Lie

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Will San Francisco ever be able to move beyond Sit/Lie? Whether Proposition L (which would ban sitting and lying on city sidewalks) passes, it's driven a sizable wedge between city institutions.

    Haight Street is just one epicenter of kids and adults with nowhere to call home. There, merchants are divided on the correct approach. The owner of Booksmith opposes criminalizing homelessness, but offers no solutions in a Chronicle roundup of local sentiment. Just down the street, the owner of a skateboarding shop reports being intimidated by a large homeless gang recently.

    Prop L, backed by Gavin Newsom and SFPD Chief George Gascon, would allow police to ticket anyone relaxing on the sidewalk during daytime. An initial warning would be followed by a fines of up to $500 and jail time of up to 30 days. Hey, at least they'd get a roof over their head for a while. But jail might not be the right place for all street people, some of whom need psychiatric care, substance abuse counseling, and/or job training. And then of course there are those who just want to laze around on the sidewalk and don't care that they're in anyone's way.

    The proposition is largely backed by wealthy donors, but smaller organizations have jumped on-board as well, particularly local businesses in the tourism industry. The Chamber of Commerce has supported the measure, which has raised nearly $200,000. The campaign against Prop L has raised about $6,000.

    According to Prop L backers, existing laws don't allow police to go far enough to discourage loitering. Meanwhile, critics of the measure have claimed that it would penalize neighbors who just want to sit on their front stoop and socialize, although the District Attorney's office has said that that won't happen.

    Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, meanwhile, has proposed a different solution: increased SFPD foot patrols. If his Prop M passes with more votes than Prop L, the sit/lie measure will be nullified and the police will begin walking more beats, at a cost of several million dollars.