Occupy The Castro: Neighborhood Activists Face Off Against Wiener In Open Spaces Debate
Harvey Milk Plaza, the brick entryway into the Muni station at Market and Castro streets in front of the Diesel store, named for the slain LGBTQ icon and marked by the gigantic rainbow flag visible from many parts of town, and Jane
Warner Plaza, the intersection of Castro, 17th, and Market streets, closed to automobile traffic under the "Pavement to Parks" program in favor of planter pots and patio furniture, are virtually the only open spaces in the entire Castro aside from sidewalks.
The rules currently governing both are insufficient, according to Wiener, almost comically so: Harvey Milk Plaza is technically owned by Muni, while the California Vehicle Code is the law of the land at Jane Warner, which is a road, just closed off from automobile traffic. Neither are governed by the Parks Code, in effect in nearly every other open San Francisco space.
Wiener introduced legislation Nov. 15 to, among other things, ban camping, large wheeled vehicles like shopping carts, and smoking in both spaces.
"We've been talking about this in the neighborhood for several years," Wiener said Friday.
"Folks in the neighborhood agree, it's important to know what's acceptable and what's not. That's the impetus for it."
While the rules would outlaw camping like everywhere else ruled by the Park Code, Occupy the Castro has nothing to do with Wiener's proposed rules for the Castro's public spaces, the supervisor noted.
Yet he's still in the crosshairs: queer activist Tommi Avicolli-Mecca, one of the organizers of Occupy the Castro, accused Wiener this week in a Bay Area Reporter editorial of focusing more on banning public nudity than preserving AIDS funding. And some Castro District agitators and gadflys accuse Wiener's rules of violating the sacrosanct spirit of Harvey Milk himself.
A modern-day Milk would need a permit from the Department of Public Works to organize rallies on the brown tile that bears his name, as would nonprofits and other events using the space, according to neighborhood resident Gary Virginia, who's lived in the Castro since 1987.
"These areas are public space and should be as least restrictive as possible," said Virginia, who noted that while permits can easily be secured for city-organized events like ski jumps on Lombard, "the average person is being restricted in many ways at one of the busiest intersections and tourist destinations in the city."
Other opponents of the legislation aren't pleased with Jane Warner Plaza's hours, as volunteers take in and put out the tables from shelter in the morning and at night, meaning there's places to sit -- with towel covering bare bottom -- from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. only. Others, like blogger and iconoclast Michael Petrelis, find issue with the provision on "peddling or vending" wares or printed material.
Of course, there's nothing in Wiener's laws or anywhere else that would ban political speech or demonstrations in the area, such as the marches and rallies seen most recently during the Prop 8 debate -- and the Occupy the Castro rally planned for noon Saturday.
Most permits are a nominal formalities, easy to obtain, and not much more than a nod to the notion that public spaces are for the enjoyment of all, and if a rally or a motive for profit require their use, a fee is small potatoes.
And nothing's final, either -- Wiener said Friday he's open to amendments when the legislation enters the committee process in the new year.
Ordinance would put restrictions on Castro District plazas
A proposal to regulate two popular Castro District hangouts by restricting chairs and shopping carts is a step closer to becoming city law.
The Board of Supervisors will decide Tuesday on an ordinance, which passed the Land Use Committee this week that would ban nighttime sitting, sleeping, vending, smoking and even pushing a shopping cart in Harvey Milk and Jane Warner Plaza.
Supervisor Scott Wiener said his measure will clarify a legal gray area that city and park codes don’t cover at the plazas located across the street from each other at the intersection of 17th, Castro and Market streets. He called it “common sense legislation.”
The city would charge fines up to $500 for camping, smoking and selling merchandise without a permit in those areas. The ordinance would also bar sitting on removable chairs between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. and bans shopping carts.
Supporters from neighborhood associations and merchant groups said the law would alleviate noise, safety and public health problems. But advocates for homeless people and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth oppose the measure, saying it adds to existing codes that already penalize them.
“This isn’t about law. It’s not about order, it’s not about rules, it’s not about safety, it’s not about quiet,” said civil rights organizer Bob Offer-Westort of the Coalition on Homelessness. “It’s about an emotional response, and the emotion that the author of this legislation has chosen is hatred.”
If the board approves the measure, it could take effect as soon as Feb. 29.
Posted: 10:08 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012
SF supes pass new regulations for Castro Plazas
A proposal to ban camping and other activities at two plazas in San Francisco's Castro District was approved by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, but only after the removal of regulations that had angered homeless advocates in the city.
Supervisor Scott Wiener had proposed the legislation to prohibit a variety of activities in Harvey Milk Plaza and Jane Warner Plaza, both located near the intersection of Market and Castro streets.
Wiener had proposed to ban sleeping in the plazas at any time of day, as well as pitch tents or other structures to camp there. The legislation also proposed to prohibit the use of wheeled equipment in the plaza.
That last item rankled advocates from the San Francisco-based Coalition on Homelessness, who argued that the legislation unfairly targeted the homeless, particularly those who used shopping carts to carry their property.
The homeless advocates also argued that the legislation was unnecessary because of a state law that already bars lodging in public places without permission.
Bob Offer-Westort, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, camped out in Jane Warner Plaza on Friday night and was quickly arrested for breaking the state law, which he said proved Wiener's proposal was redundant.
Wiener argued today that the state law concerning lodging in public "is unclear at best," and that the homeless advocates "want to have their cake and eat it too ... if they went to court, they would say (the state law) doesn't apply and is unclear."
When the legislation went in front of the board this afternoon, board president David Chiu introduced an amendment to remove the wheeled equipment prohibition from the legislation.
Chiu said he was "worried about the issue of elderly people and others that have to use carts" to get through the plaza.
The board easily passed the amendment, then narrowly passed the full legislation by a 6-5 vote, despite opposition from supervisors like Christina Olague, who called the proposal "a solution looking for a problem."
Supervisor Eric Mar said he too opposed it because he was worried that the legislation would lead to police targeting the city's poor and youth.
Wiener argued that the legislation was "not about targeting, it's about small constrained public spaces" and said it "had broad support throughout the neighborhood."
Despite the legislation passing, homeless advocates gathered outside board chambers following the vote to celebrate what they considered a victory.
"The legislation passed but all the harmful parts are out," Offer-Westort said. "We didn't have any objection to most of the legislation."
SF supervisors split on plaza restrictions
Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer
Published 04:00 a.m., Wednesday, February 1, 2012
The board gave preliminary approval to the legislation Tuesday on a 6-5 vote, showcasing the progressive-moderate split among San Francisco's lawmakers. Final consideration is set for next week.
Supervisor Scott Wiener, who sponsored the legislation, described it as "modest, basic legislation" that absorbs some of the rules governing city parks and streets.
The proposal would affect Harvey Milk and Jane Warner plazas at Market and Castro streets. It would ban smoking and bar people from selling merchandise without a city permit; an exception would be made for written and other materials protected by the First Amendment.
But it was two other elements that stirred the most controversy: a ban on large shopping carts, which are often used by homeless people to stow their possessions, and a prohibition on sleeping and camping. Homeless activists urged supervisors to reject the plan.
In an attempt to mollify critics, the legislation was amended Tuesday to remove the shopping cart provision and to only bar sleeping in the plazas between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
But the changes weren't enough for supervisors who voted against the proposal.
"Generally, I'm philosophically challenged by restrictions to any public space that we have here in San Francisco," said Supervisor Jane Kim.
Added Supervisor John Avalos: "I tend to want to support people who I feel are more vulnerable, and I'm going to be siding with them on this. I do believe we have to figure out how to make our city the sanctuary it really is, and when I see intent behind legislation that constrains our abilities to use public space and enjoy it, I question that legislation."
Wiener, the Castro district representative who said he crafted the legislation at the request of neighborhood organizations, said his intent is not to undermine people's rights to assemble or visit the public plazas.
"We have a very, very extensive parks code governing our parks system. There are many rules in place for our sidewalks. None of these rules have undermined the freedoms we enjoy as a community," he said. "Rather, these rules ensure that these public spaces are usable by everyone."
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who helped craft the amendments, and cast the decisive swing vote, said the fissure on the board was based more on ideology than on policy.
"I do think we in our roles have to figure out how to move beyond the intense emotion and symbolism around some of these issues and get down to what this legislation really does, and I do think it's a modest piece of legislation. ... It by and large reiterates what's in our parks code," he said.
Joining Wiener and Chiu in voting in favor were Supervisors Carmen Chu, Malia Cohen, Sean Elsbernd and Mark Farrell. Voting with Avalos and Kim in opposition were Supervisors David Campos, Eric Mar and Christina Olague.
I'm not against the homeless, but I am against being hassled by an aggressive panhandler at an ATM (long been illegal), I'm tired of being chased down the street and touched or having my way blocked by another aggressive panhandler. I'm tired of seeing street thugs who are not homeless pray on tourists because the city wants to do nothing. I'm tired of seeing the thugs pretend to be disabled and homeless to get tourists money. (Did you ever see the shift change at the wheelchair on Geary Street, the day guy gets up and leaves and another guy uses the chair in the evening, both are more mobile than I am)...
San Francisco needs to start worrying about the rights of everyday San Franciscan's over the tourists and street people.
If people need help they can go to many agencies, most who choose to be in the street only do so because the city bends backwards to let them do so...
What if the city just gave out cigarettes, alcohol and drugs, it would probably stop this in its tracks.
I see business closing and tourists being upset at our antics. All I hear lately is about people's rights, lets hear about people's responsibilities! The rights of the average San Franciscan are being trashed in our efforts to let people act out any way they want for any reason. It is hurting tourism because most other venues don't allow it. So Honest Ed Lee says he does not want the tourists hassled in Union Square, Let him walk down Geary some evening without his squad of goons and see what it is like...
This just shows what and idiot John Avalos is. Why should San Francisco be a sanctuary for those who come hear to do harm to the City? As far as contraining our ability to "use and enjoy" public spaces, its the abusive panhandlers and vagrants who constrain that ability and its Supervisor Weiners legislation that is designed to fix that problem. Avalos and Mar are up for reelection this year. Vote them both out of office and San Francisco will be better off for it.
In the words of the Supervisor ""This legislation is not draconian. It does not restrict anyone from the plazas," said Wiener, later adding, "This is basic, common sense legislation." - well, obviously that's a matter of opinion. It's interesting to me that Wiener focuses his attention on such matters (which some might categorize as demonizing the homeless, destitute and desperate...), rather than do work to HELP homeless people. As one person has said "I'm sooo releived to know that our very own "SuperWeiner" (I just coined that) is expending his legislative might to tackle the REALLY BIG issues plaguing our fair corne...r of the City."
Unfortunately for all of us and for our city by the bay, Homelessness has been a favorite political football in this in some ways provincial town for neigh unto 4 decades. The politicians and other forces in the city use homelessness and the homeless to attain other political goals. I find this particularly ugly and loathsome as the homeless represent the weakest link in our shared culture - they are the most desperate of folk among us. Just in case there are those of us who might not have thought of this, many if not all of the homeless are multiply-diagnosed. The first thing they are diagnosed with is not having a home (a condition which plays havoc with one's dignity not to mention personal hygiene.) Then comes HIV disease of various stages of progression, other infectious diseases such as tuberculosis as well as health problems that are present in the non-homeless population but may not be treated in the homeless due to lack of medical care or access to such, active or latent drug and alcohol dependencies, mental illness, at-risk state of being for such things as sexual and physical and emotional and legal assault, and the list goes on and on.
Add to that, the heavy handed regulatory aspirations of Wiener. Let's face it, folks, even if he isn't one of the 1% now, he is certainly acting like one and undoubtably aspires to be one of the one, in time. He DOES have a Harvard Law degree, after alll.......but unlike our President, Barack Obama, he is not an appealing creature - quite the opposite.