Sit-Lie Already Has People Standing Up

Tuesday, Aug 10, 2010  |  Updated 5:15 PM PDT
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Sit-Lie Already Has People Standing Up

AP

A man walks past a closed business on Haight Street in San Francisco, Friday, Jan. 30, 2009.

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Dozens of opponents of a measure that would prohibit sitting on  San Francisco sidewalks gathered in the Castro District Tuesday to launch a  campaign against it months before voters will decide its fate.

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos was among the opponents of  the proposed sit-lie measure who stood symbolically today in front of Harvey  Milk Plaza at the corner of Market and Castro streets, where a similar law  prohibiting sitting on sidewalks was used to target the gay community in the  1970s. It was eventually deemed unconstitutional.

Business owners in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, where the  issue has been heavily debated, say the ordinance is necessary to counter  what they say is increasingly aggressive behavior by street youth that  detracts from the area's appeal as a place to shop and live.

Proponents argue the ordinance is necessary to enable police to  enforce civility on sidewalks.

If approved by a simple majority of voters, the ordinance would  prohibit sitting or lying on public sidewalks, or on objects placed on the  sidewalk, between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. citywide.

On June 15, a week after the Board of Supervisors voted down a  similar proposal, Mayor Gavin Newsom revived the proposed ordinance by  placing the measure on the November ballot as Proposition L.

Campos faulted the Police Department for failing to enforce the  multiple quality-of-life laws already on the books, which he said adequately  address and criminalize the behavior proponents of the measure say justifies  the need for the new ordinance.

"If they did their job, we wouldn't be here today," he said.

Many of the speakers present at today's event, including religious  and community representatives, raised concerns that the measure would  redefine San Francisco as a city that neglects vulnerable populations.

Members of the Sidewalks Are for People Coalition, who oppose the  measure, say the law would be enforced unfairly against homeless people,  people of color, queer people, those with disabilities and youth.

"If we're asking the police to enforce a new law against one group  of people, but not against another, we're asking for a segregated  neighborhood and a discriminatory legal system," the coalition said in a  statement.

Campos said that the character of San Francisco is largely defined  by the treatment of "those that are the most vulnerable."

"We all want civility on our streets. We all want civility on our  sidewalk. But sit-lie is not the answer," he said.

San Francisco resident and mother Celina Sutton spoke out against  the measure while holding her 6-month-old son Walt, who she said recently  learned how to sit, joking "he's very good at it."

Sutton said she wants her son to grow up in a San Francisco with  "safe community sidewalks," but sees the ordinance as encouraging  discrimination. She said she hopes her son will know a San Francisco that can  teach him to "treat everyone with respect."

Among the crowd were members from the San Francisco Day Labor  Program, whose members held signs quoting civil rights activist Cesar Chavez  that read "we don't need perfect political systems; we need perfect  participation."

Because day laborers are required to stand for long stretches of  time while looking for work, opponents of the measure argue that the workers,  if they become exhausted and rest on the sidewalk, would be unfairly targeted  by the measure.

At one point, as Campos addressed those day laborers directly in  Spanish, he told them, among other things, "Todos estamos juntos," a phrase  meaning, "We are all together."
 

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