Protests Mount Against Sidewalk Eviction Law

Response to Haight Street homelessness could criminalize anyone on the sidewalk

By Matt Baume
|  Monday, Mar 29, 2010  |  Updated 1:48 PM PDT
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Josh Keppel

Sitting on the street in San Francisco could soon become a crime.

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Don't get too comfy. San Francisco is moving ahead with a "sit/lie" law that would criminalize loitering on the sidewalk.

The move comes in response to complaints from a suburban visitor to the City who penned several articles in the Chronicle about violent youths on Haight. San Francisco's sit/lie law would mirror an ordinance in Berkeley.

This weekend, protests against the proposed law sprang up across the City, with residents exercising their right -- for now -- to congregate in front of their own houses. Among protesters' complaints: sit/lie would be difficult, if not impossible to enforce fairly, with just about any presence on the sidewalk potentially running afoul of the law.

In addition, protesters say, existing laws are already sufficient to detain truly dangerous loiterers -- the SFPD just needs to start enforcing them. The measure is heartily endorsed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco's police chief George Gascon, who last week expressed worries about people hanging out in front of his very own Hall of Justice -- especially if those people are of Middle Eastern descent. He's since apologized for his racially loaded remarks.

San Franciscans on both sides of the debate have their work cut out for them. In Portland, a city in which strip clubs were recognized as constitutionally protected free speech, consensus on sit/lie has eluded lawmakers and community groups for years.

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