A month or so ago the San Francisco city council voted 8-3 against the Mayor’s sit-lie ordinance, which now in lieu of the defeat he will bring the proposed law to the November ballot for the voters to decide its fate. According to some reports the whole thing was partially started when Newsom moved from the safe, affluent neighborhood of Russian Hill to the culturally rich Upper Haight where he witnessed a man smoking crack while walking with his eight year old daughter. Is this the first time he has seen this or something? Is this some kind of shock, and are we supposed to feel bad for others that feel uncomfortable watching someone whose life is being ruined by addiction? Or maybe we should feel bad for the person smoking the crack. Instead the mayor seems to think it is better to make life harder for such lowly denizens, transients, and delinquents. Even though I am still not quite sure what Newsom’s story has to do with enforcing a law that prevents people from sitting or lying on public sidewalks from 7am-11pm. Maybe he would just rather have the man be in the park, which is excluded in the law, so he doesn’t have to witness the drug use in his new neighborhood, I mean as they say “out of sight out of mind.”
What really shocked me about this, and helped inspire this blog post, was to find out that a major supporter of this bill comes from a participant in the local skate community: Kent Uyehara, the owner of FTC skateshop on Haight, a company that ironically claims to have “products born from the heart and soul of the streets.” I expect such a law to come from Newsom but I do not expect it to come from the skate community, a culture I see as sharing roots with the street culture of Haight-Ashbury. I do not know this Kent fellow, and he may be a nice guy, but I am still perplexed. And as a business owner he may have valid arguments that I am not aware of, but it is hard to see this law as a way of solving much. When the store opened its shop on Haight street in 1994 didn’t they know that a street youth culture already existed there? Wasn’t that probably why they wanted to open their shop on Haight street to try and ride the counter-cultural wave and sell a certain image that San Francisco helped to create and that goes together with skate culture like peaches and cream. I mean they didn’t open their shop in Nob Hill. The FTC website says itself that they were “there for the whole ride attracting and nurturing talented outsiders, misfits, and artists…” Outsiders and misfits sound like similar titles that could be used in rhetoric used by the sit lie proponents. In the words of Tara “For the City (which is what FTC stands for), more like For the Cash.” Perhaps Wu Tang’s C.R.E.A.M. is coming to life in the middle class, instead of using gats they use laws to get that “dolla dolla bill y’all.”
Basically the sit-lie law just seems unnecessary. Smoking crack is still illegal no matter where you are, blocking sidewalks is still illegal, and as far as noise I am sure that you can probably go to the police about that too but come on San Francisco is a city for crying out loud, and a very dense one, it is going to be noisy. If shop owners don’t want people congregating outside their storefronts they can politely ask them to leave and I am sure a lot of them would be nice enough to move. Although in saying that I do not want to assume that all store owners treat street people like dirt and all street people are saints, I know that is not always the case. And maybe I am just naïve but I like to think if you treat someone like a valued human they will treat you in the same way.
One USA Today article claimed that according to Newsome the issue isn’t about homelessness and he is not criminalizing the poor. The article goes on to say “on any given night, San Francisco's homeless shelters have more than 100 empty beds, he says. The city has kept its shelters open 24 hours and even accommodates dogs.” First off, a shelter is not a home, and secondly these facts do not mean there are not individuals wanting to sleep in these bed. These beds may be empty because of the Mayor’s Care Not Cash program that reduces individuals General Assistance income and instead gives them “housing” vouchers. When housing is not available an individual is given a bed at a shelter for up to 45 days, even if they don’t show up, which means often beds are left empty. The statistic may also reflect the shelter reservation computer system. To reserve a bed in a shelter you must go to a drop in center and access the CHANGES computer system, a system full of kinks and bugs that sometimes show less available beds than there are. And as far as 24 hour shelters, I have never heard of one. Usually you have to get to the shelter at a certain time and then be out by a certain time in the morning. I do not think there are even any 24 hour drop in centers anymore.
Basically I am a bit fed up with San Francisco. It continues to appear to me as a city that is preoccupied with having a progressive image but has no action. A city that can talk but can’t walk its talk. Whether you are the mayor wanting a good political image but doing nothing for the city, an anarchist discussing revolution over a cup of coffee while never reaching outside his/her own subculture community, a rich suburban kid pretending to be poor but never understanding what poverty means, or Haight street landlords who want the hippy culture of Haight street without the hippies like the Hot Topic on Telegraph that I see as representing a capitalistic raid on a counter-culture of yesterday, which ironically tries to sell that culture as a product. Let’s not let San Francisco lose its backbone. Let it not lose its reputation as a home to travelers, a sanctuary for immigrants, a safe haven for ideas, or a place where progress can really happen from the SF State Riots for an ethnic studies program (now the first and only College of Ethnic Studies in the US), to the Black Panthers distributing their paper out of the Fillmore and creating social programs that other organizations continue to model today. Don’t let the City be a place that puts convenience, wealth, and image before humans and positive change. So before putting time, money, and effort in to these laws think about what the priorities are and what are alternatives that respect and bring positive results for everyone.