Let’s Bring Civility Back to Our Sidewalks

As San Franciscans we are tolerant. We celebrate diversity and empathize with those less fortunate. But when it comes to bad behavior on our sidewalks, its time to say enough is enough.

Everyone has the right to use the public sidewalk. Unfortunately, for the past 20 years, we have watched as our streets have become more crowded and dangerous. Neighborhoods like The Haight – once synonymous with peace and love – are now hot spots for street bullies, pit bulls and drug use. Even the city’s main tourist attractions get repeated complaints about people on sidewalks according to the San Francisco Central Police District.

On Monday, May 10 the Public Safety Committee will conduct its first public hearing on the civil sidewalks ordinance introduced by Mayor Newsom. Designed to address street misconduct, this proposal will restrict sitting or lying on public sidewalks anywhere in the city between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

Opponents claim the legislation is anti-poor and anti-homeless. But the civil sidewalks ordinance is not about social status. It is about addressing bad behavior on public sidewalks. Critics have also claimed that restricting sidewalk squatting will leave tourists, homeless and others with nowhere to go. But there are public parks, libraries and public spaces scattered throughout the city not affected by this legislation.

Under today’s laws, San Francisco police cannot legally require individuals who are blocking sidewalks and intimidating pedestrians to move unless they have a formal complaint from a citizen. The civil sidewalks ordinance will give police the authority to address bad street behavior in front of homes and stores and cite repeat offenders. First time violators will receive a warning, escalating into a fine only if the person refuses to correct the behavior. Fines and possible jail time will depend on the number of violations.

San Francisco is not the only city with behavior problems on our sidewalks, but we are among the last to act. Seattle, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, and others have all passed similar legislation in order to reclaim order in public spaces. It’s difficult to gauge the success of these measures in isolation from other neighborhood improvement programs and policies, but Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin says the ordinance has been “a huge improvement.”

While the movement to implement a civil sidewalks ordinance in San Francisco started with a few merchants on Haight Street, it has quickly gained support from businesses, organizations and residents across the city. In fact, the Chamber’s recent CityBeat poll revealed that 71 percent of San Francisco voters support a measure prohibiting people from sitting or lying on the sidewalk, with support coming from every neighborhood in the city.

The Chamber applauds Police Chief George Gascón, Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier for their leadership in crafting a viable civil sidewalks ordinance for the public to debate. The Chamber is playing an active role to help gain support for the measure and is working with the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, the South Beach Mission Bay Business Association and other groups to champion this civic sidewalks ordinance that is so sorely needed in our communities and commercial corridors.

Now it is time for the Board of Supervisors to act. We encourage businesses and residents who are concerned about civility on our city streets to make your voice heard by attending Monday’s hearing at 10:00 a.m. at City Hall in room 250 or by emailing your Supervisor to express your support for a civil sidewalks ordinance in San Francisco.

Enough is enough! Let’s bring civility back to our sidewalks.