Friday, October 15, 2010

"The Sidewalks of San Francisco"

Thanks to C.W. Nevius for a link to the fine article by Heather MacDonald in the current City Journal on the conditions in San Francisco that led to the sit-lie measure on next month's ballot. MacDonald is wise to the "progressive" interpretation of what's happening in the Haight:

The homelessness industry instantly mobilized against the [sit-lie]Civil Sidewalks law. Its first tactic was to assimilate the gutter punks into the “homelessness” paradigm, so that they could be slotted into the industry’s road-tested narrative about the casualties of a heartless free-market economy. “Homelessness, at its core, is an economic issue,” intoned the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco’s most powerful homelessness advocacy group, in a report criticizing the proposed law. “People are homeless because they cannot afford rent.” Even applied to the wizened shopping-cart pushers of the traditional “homeless” population, this simplistic statement is deeply misleading. But applied to the able-bodied Haight vagrants, it is simply ludicrous, entailing a cascading series of misrepresentations regarding the role of choice in youth street culture. The Haight punks may not be able to afford rent, but that is because they choose to do no work and mooch off those who do. Further, they are not looking for housing. They have no intention of settling down in San Francisco or anywhere else. The affordability or unaffordability of rent is thus irrelevant to their condition. Shoehorning the street kids into the homeless category requires ignoring their own “voices,” ordinarily a big no-no among “progressives” when it comes to official victims of capitalism and other oppressions. They are not homeless, the “travelers” insist, and they look down on those who are...

Read the article and then check out the online comments. This one succinctly summarizes the situation: "SF is a one-horse town politically, and they get the government and city they deserve."

On the other hand, when voters citywide get a chance to vote on fringe left, "progressive" issues, they often make sensible choices. Too bad they'll never get a chance to vote on the Bicycle Plan.

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13 Comments:

At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only reason we might want sit/lie is because the fat and lazy cops are too busy drinking lattes to do their job. The problem for them is, once this stinker passes, people will want them to enforce it, and they are too bloated to do it.

We don't need sit/lie, we need cops that can do their job.

 
At 12:34 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

We need both. You didn't read the MacDonald article carefully. Other jurisdictions have passed similar laws to deal with similar problems, including Palo Alto and Santa Cruz. At the very least, there will be no excuses after sit-lie is passed.

 
At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

GREAT article. I wish every voter had to read it before voting.

Here's hoping that sit/lie passes, it's a small first step toward reclaiming our sidewalks as public space and encouraging civil behavior in a city that seems to have forgotten what that even means.

 
At 3:16 PM, Anonymous modelenoir said...

Rob Anderson: There is no excuse for the current laws not to be enforced. When the police/mayor DO COME UP WITH ANOTHER EXCUSE why things aren't fixed, what next?

Prop A, November 3, 2011: PROP A will make it a crime to use sidewalks in San Francisco at all without showing a receipt, validating a person's legal use of the sidewalk.

What happens when there are still homeless people then?

 
At 3:51 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

MacDonald argues---and I agree---that the sit-lie, street punk problem isn't about homelessness at all. It's about a young generation of hobos, who unlike the hobos of the Great Depression, aren't really interested in working or getting a place to live. This is also true of some of the so-call homeless we now see on our streets and in the parks. These folks are full-time derelicts---though some have serious psychological problems and are off their meds---who don't want to go to homeless shelters, because they can't drink or do drugs there.

The biggest problem SF has with homelessness is that it's always been a magnet for alcoholics and other marginal types. The Summer of Love kicked up a notch, making us a destination for a wide variety of lost souls. The myth perpetrated by the Homeless Coalition and city progressives is that these people are simply San Franciscans who are down on their luck, can't pay the rent, lost their jobs, etc. But that's obviously bullshit, as city authorities have recognized for some time, since so many they deal with have been in SF for only a short time.

Dealing with this ongoing---even permanent---problem is the trickiest part of dealing with homelessness. Back in the Great Depression, local jurisdictions could meet these folks at the city's border and apply nightsticks to keep them out. Obviously, we can't do that now.

My favorite homeless program---and the most cost-effective---is Project Homeward Bound, whereby the city provides a homeless person with a bus ticket back to wherever he/she came from.

All the city can do---they seem to be doing it, more or less---is to aggressively do outreach to the visibly and obviously homeless and deal with them on a one-to-one basis, while insisting that allowing people to live in Golden Gate Park permanently is completely unacceptable.

Given SF's allure and its history, there is never going to be a permanent solution---unfortunate phrase!---to homelessness. But, surprisingly, Mayor Newsom has done a better job dealing with the issue than any of his predecessors.

 
At 9:48 AM, Anonymous robert said...

I live in the Upper Haight - this is a quality of life issue plain and simple.
I have already happily voted yes on "L".

 
At 3:35 PM, Anonymous Grate Yui said...

For once I totally agree with you Rob. Nothing makes me more annoyed that gutter punks. I will proudly vote YES on the sit/lie ban.

Just FYI, however, I'm a daily cyclist who otherwise opposed your lawsuit.

 
At 12:55 PM, Anonymous whir said...

I'm not crazy about the gutter punks either - though frankly I don't find them all that more or less annoying than teenagers who hang out in packs at the mall, and at least they like better music - but the problem is that sit / lie doesn't really address any of the problems people who support it want to address (people who live in GGP aren't sitting on the sidewalk, for example), and has unintended negative consequences.

 
At 1:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A decade ago when i moved to SOMA and started to talk to people on the street it became really clear that this has NOTHING to do with the homeless and EVERYTHING to do with Street People. They do not want to go into shelters at night and have no plans to go into SRO housing. Why? They have said to me they can't drink or do drugs in those venues. Actually I thought it was very honest for them to admit as much to me...it was honest and it was their truth.

 
At 9:51 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"...but the problem is that sit/lie doesn't really address any of the problems people who support it want to address (people who live in GGP aren't sitting on the sidewalk, for example), and has unintended negative consequences."

I disagree. I bet many of the street punks do in fact "live" in the park, given its proximity to the Haight. Sleep in the park and emerge during the day to pursue their mission in life---getting loaded and being assholes. This issue is just one of a cluster of quality-of-life issues in SF. The progs are bad on all of them: street punks, homelessness, graffiti/tagging, Critical Mass come to mind. Passing sit-lie is really about building a consensus for a crackdown, which I assume a majority of city voters support. It reminds me of 1982, when Gavin Newsom broke from the pack with Care Not Cash, which changed everything. On this ballot, we have sit-lie, Adachi's pension reform, and Elsbernd's Muni measure. In combination these are game-changers, too.

 
At 10:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It reminds me of 1982, when Gavin Newsom broke from the pack with Care Not Cash..."

I expect you mean 2002. Gavin was just a lad in 1982.

 
At 11:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It reminds me of 1982, when Gavin Newsom broke from the pack with Care Not Cash, which changed everything.

All I can remember about 1982 was Phoebe Cates in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High". Gavin is my age so he's way ahead of the curve.

 
At 9:58 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, of course I meant "2002."

 

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