Sit/lie debate takes a strange new turn

Pub date April 15, 2010
WriterRebecca Bowe
SectionPolitics Blog

Emails are rocketing around San Francisco political circles in anticipation of an April 21 meeting of the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC), the policy-making body for the Democratic Party in San Francisco. Committee members are slated to discuss the city’s proposed sit/lie ordinance, a controversial measure backed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Police Chief George Gascon meant to afford police more powers for dealing with hostile youth occupying sidewalk space.

Labor activist Gabriel Haaland, a DCCC committee member, touched off a small firestorm early this week when he submitted a resolution against the sit/lie ordinance. Haaland, who has lived in the Haight for around 15 years, said wayward youth have been flocking to that neighborhood and hurling occasional barbs at passersby (including himself) since he can remember, and recent interest in the issue does not make it a new problem. “What would actually solve the problem?” Haaland asked, and offered that sit/lie is not the answer. According to a post on Fog City Journal, his resolution for the Democratic Party to oppose sit/lie was co-sponsored by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, Supervisor David Campos, Supervisor Chris Daly, Supervisor Eric Mar, Aaron Peskin, Hene Kelly, Rafael Mandelman, Michael Goldstein, Joe Julian, Jane Morrison, Jake McGoldrick, Michael Bornstein, and Debra Walker.

While some might look at a grungy street kid and see a menace to smooth business functioning or an unruly vagrant not being properly dealt with because the laws are too weak, Haaland said he perceives a kid from a broken home who already feels alienated from society. Incarceration for a nonviolent crime such as lying on the sidewalk would only further alienate these youths, he argued, possibly nudging them toward criminal behavior instead.

“This legislation will not solve longstanding, complex problems,” Haaland’s resolution reads. “City Hall has openly and repeatedly admitted in the press that the criminal justice system is failing to deal with similar issues in the Tenderloin, and has created an alternative known as the Community Justice Court (CJC) that is founded on principles of Restorative Justice.”

Restorative Justice is an alternative approach to dealing with crime that involves bringing together those who are directly affected to understand and address the harm that has been done, with emphasis on personal accountability and transformation. Some models also seek to change the conditions in which harmful actions occurred.

Haaland’s resolution urges the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor to oppose sit/lie, and to explore successful alternatives to incarceration.

The proposal sparked a second resolution, this one from committee member Scott Wiener, who is a candidate for the District 8 seat on the Board of Supervisors. Wiener submitted that the Democratic Party should officially get behind the CJC, and should acknowledge its error in opposing the court, a Newsom pet project, in 2008. “When I saw Gabriel’s resolution … I noticed it contained a positive reference to the [CJC],” Wiener told the Guardian. “I was pleasantly surprised.”

Furthermore, his resolution “encourages the Mayor and Board of Supervisors, budget permitting and based on careful analysis, to consider future expansion of the CJC’s geographic boundaries to include the Haight-Ashbury.”

Wiener is fully behind the sit/lie ordinance. “Right now, the police do not have enough enforcement tools to deal with some of the behavior on the streets,” he said. The measure has been an issue in the District 8 race, since progressive candidate Rafael Mandelman opposes the ordinance.

The resolution contest wasn’t over yet. In response to resolution No. 2, Haaland submitted yet another resolution — along with a personal note that appeared to extend an olive branch — revising Wiener’s proposal by urging support for “the restorative justice model as an alternative to incarceration.” (Haaland wrote an in-depth piece about restorative justice in a recent Guardian editorial.)

“I appreciated him doing that,” Wiener said when asked what he thought about resolution No. 3. “But I’m not convinced that that’s the way to go. That’s why I did not agree to it.”

Perhaps there won’t be any kum-ba-ya moments after all.

Along other email-blast circuits, Haaland’s initial proposal prompted David Villa-Lobos, a strong sit/lie advocate and District-6 contender, to sound his own alarm by urging SFPD officers to attend the April 21 meeting and defend the sit/lie ordinance.

The city Planning Commission recently voted 6-1 against the measure, and a grassroots group that brought opponents of the rule onto city sidewalks last month will hold another Stand Against Sit Lie citywide protest on April 24. The measure is expected to go before the Board of Supervisors near the end of the month.

The DCCC meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 21, at 6 p.m. in the basement auditorium of the California State Building, 455 Golden Gate Ave.