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San Francisco's Sit/Lie Measure Passes

A homeless man sleeps in the park across from San Francisco City Hall Feb. 28, 2007
A homeless man sleeps in the park across from San Francisco City Hall Feb. 28, 2007
Proposal championed by Mayor Newsom has sharply divided city

It will become a crime to sit or lie down on a sidewalk in San Francisco, vote counts show.

San Francisco’s sit/lie initiative, Measure L, which would criminalize sitting and lying on sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., had received 53.6 percent of the vote with 98.5 percent of precincts reporting results a little after 10:40 p.m., San Francisco Department of Elections results showed.

If the measure passes, repeat offenders who ignore police instructions to stand up could be fined up to $500 and sent to jail for up to a month.

Measure L will be invalidated if it receives fewer votes than Measure M, a dueling ballot initiative. But that appears unlikely. Measure M looked to be failing with only 48.8 percent voting yes in the early counting.

The effort to ban sitting and lying on San Francisco sidewalks has sharply divided the city.

Supporters of the measure say it will protect merchants and pedestrians from aggressive behavior by loafers, particularly in the famous Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.

The sit/lie measure was strongly supported by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which argued that flagrant loitering on the streets had a negative impact on the city’s tourism industry, which is its main income source and provider of jobs.

“San Franciscans, while they tend to be very tolerant, are saying that ‘enough is enough’ and we need to clean up the situation on San Francisco sidewalks,” chamber CEO Steve Falk said Tuesday evening.

Opponents, however, have characterized the proposed sit/lie law as a tool that will be used to harass the poor.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who campaigned against the sit/lie law and championed the competing ballot measure, said he was not surprised by the success of Measure L.

“It had a very well resourced campaign and it was a campaign that was really built on a simmer of fear and anger,” Mirkarimi said. “The law itself, the way it's worded, is a challenge. Now the onus is on the city and particularly the police to make sense of it.”

Mayor Gavin Newsom launched the effort to ban sitting and lying on sidewalks after he moved in mid-2009 with his family from a home on Russian Hill to an area close to the Haight.

He introduced sit/lie legislation, saying it would give police officers a tool to help them chase young loiterers away from the neighborhood and protect pedestrians from bullying and intimidating behavior.

The Haight-Ashbury, once a bastion of hippies and other free-thinkers, has been heavily gentrified, but it remains a popular haunt for young transients who hang out and smoke weed, play guitars, pat dogs and ask passersby for money. It’s also easy to find people under the influence of crack and other hard drugs in the neighborhood.

Newsom’s legislation was rejected in a nonbinding vote by the city’s Planning Commission, which found it would contradict city policies that aim to use sidewalks as gathering places in dense neighborhoods, and it was subsequently voted down by city supervisors, who said it could be used as a tool to harass homeless people.

In response to the rebuff, Newsom placed the sit/lie measure on the ballot. Supporters of the initiative, Measure L, comfortably outspent opponents, who led a grass-roots campaign against it.

Measure M, placed on the ballot by Mirkarimi and six of his board colleagues, could have invalidated Measure L, but it also would have directed the San Francisco Police Department to prepare and execute foot patrol plans throughout the city.

Mirkarimi on Tuesday evening said he would continue to press for improved approaches to foot patrols in San Francisco.

Andy Blue, a spokesman for the campaign that opposed the sit/lie measure, said he expects it to be overturned by a court. "It's a violation of the Eighth and 14th amendments," he said.

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