DCCC: Thumbs down on sit / lie

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San Francisco's Democratic County Central Committee voted last night in favor of a resolution opposing San Francisco’s proposed sit / lie ordinance, a law backed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Police Chief George Gascon that would make it illegal to sit or lie down on city sidewalks. Gabriel Haaland introduced the resolution, and it passed with overwhelming support.

Here's a YouTube clip of Haaland's comments during the committee discussion, filmed by Linda Post.

The DCCC is the policy-making body for the Democratic Party in San Francisco, chaired by former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin. The vote followed a lengthy public comment session in which a wide variety of people voiced their opposition to sit / lie, including homeless youth advocates, residents of the Haight, and surprise guest Malia Cohen -- formerly an executive staff member for Mayor Gavin Newsom. Some comments provoked laughter (“Sit /lie is like the fungus that won’t go away!” one Tenderloin resident exclaimed), while others framed their arguments in moral terms (“It’s hard to think of it as anything less than criminalizing poverty,” attorney David Waggoner charged). Cohen, for her part, called the ordinance “mean-spirited.”

The central committee members held a meaty discussion too, in which several members shared deeply personal stories to explain their feelings about the ordinance. Haaland described how, after graduating from law school in the mid-1990s, he found it so difficult to find work as a transgendered person that he worried about becoming homeless himself.

Committee member Tom Hsieh, who said he’d lived in the Haight for 10 years, spoke about his young daughter and expressed his discomfort about the “anything goes attitude” he’d seen people on the streets exhibit in her presence. Hsieh was one of a handful of committee members who voted against Haaland’s resolution. The others were Scott Wiener, Meagan Levitan, Mary Jung, and the proxy for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, while Matt Tuchow and the proxy for Assemblymember Fiona Ma abstained.  

Sup. David Campos addressed Hsieh’s concerns directly, saying that he did not believe the proposed ordinance actually addressed the sort of behavior that he found upsetting. “Sit / lie is the wrong focus,” Campos said. “The focus should be, how do we make policing better in San Francisco?” Noting that he had formely served as a police commissioner, he called for more effective community policing.

When he met with the mayor’s office about sit / lie, Campos added, he got the impression that the law was not actually meant to stop people from sitting or lying down on the sidewalk, but to target hostile behavior occurring on the street. “When you pass a law, you have to mean what it says,” he noted. He also pointed out that day laborers who wait on sidewalks for work would essentially be criminalized by the ordinance, since it’s unreasonable to expect that they wouldn’t occasionally sit down while waiting for a job.

Meanwhile, Scott Wiener’s resolution to endorse the Community Justice Center and encourage its expansion into the Haight failed with 14 voting against it and 10 voting to support it, while two abstained. While many committee members voiced general support for the CJC, a few said they resisted the idea of dictating to the Haight that it should install a similar court.

The DCCC also endorsed Linda Colfax and Michael Nava as candidates for Judge.