Reclaim our Sidewalks – Vote Yes on L and No on M

In just over a week, San Franciscans will head to the polls to vote on 15 local ballot measures targeting everything from our economy, to public transit, to city elections. While all the measures on the local ballot are important to the city’s future, two propositions will have an immediate impact on business, residents and visitors – and the quality of life we have come to expect in San Francisco.

Propositions L and M will either restore civility on our sidewalks or further cement a culture of aggressive street behavior that is on the rise across the city. Residents in the Haight are routinely intimidated – and even assaulted – by street bullies and pit bulls. San Francisco Council of District Merchants President Herb Cohn says merchant leaders across the city are asking for help when it comes to bad sidewalk behavior. And the San Francisco Central Police District continues to get repeated complaints about people on sidewalks in the city’s main tourist attractions. Now is the time to reclaim our sidewalks for the people who live, work and visit San Francisco.

Proposition L – the Civil Sidewalks initiative – will help address street misconduct by restricting sitting or lying on public sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., except on benches and at bus stops. The initiative will give police the authority to keep aggressive individuals from camping out in front of homes and storefronts 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.

Opponents of Prop L claim that there are already sufficient laws to address bad street behavior and that better enforcement is all that’s needed to solve the problem. This is simply not true. 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. Because of the real risk of retaliation, this requirement has left many businesses and residents fearful to report bad behavior.

But even if residents file a formal complaint, a recent analysis from the San Francisco Chronicle shows that these complaints go largely ignored and have done nothing to address behavior on our sidewalks. Out of 350 quality-of-life citations examined for obstructing the sidewalk in the third quarter of 2009, only 10 cases resulted in the defendant actually paying the fine. The rest, more than 330 people, skated away, according to the report. Prop L will give police officers an enforcement tool they don’t have today – one that is used in other Bay Area communities such as Berkeley and Santa Cruz – the ability to restore civility to our sidewalks without filing a citizen complaint.

Since the arguments of Prop L’s opponents don’t stand up to the facts, they are now promoting Proposition M – a foot patrol mandate that would require a specific type of resource intensive policing when more integrated and data driven policing policies are already showing progress in San Francisco. Make no mistake; Prop M is not about public safety. It is a politically-motivated poison pill intended to kill Prop L. If Prop, M gets more “yes” votes than Prop L, it will nullify Prop L and the possibility of civil sidewalks in San Francisco for years to come.

The Chamber urges businesses and residents to vote Yes on Proposition L and No on Proposition M. No other initiatives on the General Election Ballot will have a more immediate impact on local merchants, residents and visitors to San Francisco. Click here to download the Chamber’s full voting guide and take it to the polls on November 2nd!