2010 ‘sit-lie’ law could cost city thousands to jail repeat offenders

SF Public Press
 — Apr 26 2011 - 4:42pm

It took two cops closing in from opposite directions to nab Charles Donovan outside Coffee to the People on the corner of Haight and Masonic streets. Dressed in camouflage and carrying a sign that read, “Need food,” Donovan was whisked away, ordered to remove his sunglasses and duly patted down.

The officers told him he was being detained. A barista saw the scene and ran outside to intervene. Donovan, eventually, was let go with a warning as the cops wrote down his name in their notebooks. His offense? Reclining on a large backpack against a tree outside the coffee house, an activity that stands in violation of San Francisco’s newly enacted “sit-lie” ordinance.

The ordinance — approved by 54 percent of city voters in November — prohibits people from sitting or lying on sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. barring medical necessity or patronage of a business.

Donovan, a self-proclaimed radical activist who said he has been homeless his entire adult life, might have been fined between $50 and $100 for what amounted to his first-time offense.

He doesn’t worry about having to pay a fine -- except, of course, the time it would take him to raise the money. “I live as cheaply as I can already,” he said. “There is nothing left to sacrifice.”

Dozens of others haven’t gotten off as easily as Donovan since the city started enforcing the law in February. None, yet, have gone to jail for a repeat offense; but that could soon change in the coming months, eventually costing the city nearly $4,000 per arrest after the third offense.

City Controller Ben Rosenfield, in the 2010 election pamphlet, stated that the ordinance “would not affect the cost of government.” The office’s threshold for a significant cost is more than $100,000.

“Typically, the city’s cost is significant only if there’s jail time,” said Peggy Stevenson, the city performance director in the controller’s office. “The likelihood of a person staying a night in jail is almost none.”

But anybody who is repeatedly cited could face up to 30 days of jail time, adding significantly to city costs. While the offenders themselves can only be fined a maximum of $500, the city faces potential outlays of $3,900 per jailed person. Based on the Sheriff Department’s estimated cost of $130 per day, San Francisco could end up spending more than $8 million per month filling its 2,200 prisoner county jail to capacity.

Strikingly, that cost “is the same to us if the person was booked on a murder charge or a sit-lie violation,” said Eileen Hirst, spokesperson for Sheriff Michael Hennessey.

According to latest data available, police issued 57 warnings and two citations from Feb. 1, when the law’s enforcement began, through Mar. 23. Park Station, which has jurisdiction over the Haight, was among the leading stations in issuing warnings and citations. It ran third behind the Central — which covers the Tenderloin, Nob Hill, North Beach and Financial District — and Richmond stations.

Five arrests on unrelated charges have resulted from the law’s enforcement, Park Station Commander Capt. Denis O’Leary told a crowd of about 30 at an April 14 neighborhood meeting. Although no arraignments based on sit-lie have taken place, O’Leary said the City Attorney’s Office already anticipates litigation fighting the new law.

“Where it is going to be defined is in the courts,” O’Leary said.

San Francisco’s ordinance is modeled after a similar one in Seattle, which has already withstood legal challenges. The costs of any possible litigation here would add to the city’s financial liability, officials say.

Colleen Rivecca, advocacy coordinator for Homeless Youth Alliance, said her organization now devotes most of its time to telling youths where to go to pay various ticket fines rather than how to access homeless services. She said many of San Francisco’s homeless would rather stay in the Haight than shift to more dangerous neighborhoods like the Tenderloin or South of Market.

“Youth feel safe in the Haight,” Rivecca told the audience at Park Station.

Another result of the law could be to drive more homeless deeper into Golden Gate Park – where, even if they avoid the park’s sidewalk areas, they can still be cited for other violations.

Even if the ordinance’s legality is affirmed in the courts, Donovan said he believes enforcement might be its undoing.

“The easiest way to bring the law to a halt is civil disobedience — make them ticket us over and over again,” he said. “Make it unenforceable by the sheer force of our numbers.”

 

Comments

The drive to criminalize homeless people is also evident here in Santa Cruz, which has had an expanding Sit-Lie law, mae progressively worse since it was first instituted in 1994 as a panacea for merchant paranoia.The laws are  MC 9.50.010-013 and include sitting on a bench for more than an hour.   Mc 9.50.012 actually makes 95% of the downtown sidewalks "forbidden zones" 24 hours per day. Santa Cruz'was aggresively anti-homeless Sitting Ban canb e found at http://www.codepublishing.com/CA/SantaCruz/ under Title 9 "Peace, Safety, and Morals".  

What a stupid article. 

WE don't care what it costs, the pensions are over inflated.  We want these people off the streets loitering around.  It's worked and the city's getting better now.  Thank God!

It's a free society.  Except there ain't nothing free, because there's no guarantees, you know?  You're on your own.  It's the law of the jungle, ooo hoo hoo!

Funny how the same lefties willing to advocate every social program and welfare state handout under the sun - up to the point that our state and local governments are broke - suddenly become SO concerned about spending taxpayer's money when those same governments try to actually perform the functions they were mandated to do in the first place. As far as this ludicrous idea that renters will be targeted on their own property: get over it. Making idiotic extrapolations like just shows what silly lengths people like you will go to in order to enable the parasites and layabouts who make life miserable for working people in SF...

 Something needed to be done so that elderly and children could safely navigate the sidewalks without being accosted by the intentionally immature rabble with pitbulls posing as "individuals" ... Some people think and act and say "This is America, that means I can do what I want!"   But that is infantile.  This is America, and you need to make sure you first don't infringe on others' rights before you go asserting your right to do so.Responsibility is part of entitlement, and just whining about being "hassled" for being a public nuisance is counterintuitive.  If someone gets in your way on purpose, they're gonna get kicked sooner than later.

That's not a San Francisco Police Officer, she is a security guard! 

She's a lieutenant, goofball.

this is good news that it'll cost thousands of dollars to uphold this inhuman law & may cause a rethink! It is being introduced in the Westminster area of London & so may prove to costly to enforce longterm...:)

Guess what?  Making good laws does not always result, if ever, in a profit.Hello?  Keeping the streets clear is a good use of everyone's tax money because everyone is inconvenienced by the white trash littering the sidewalks with army surplus clothes and pitbulls they should eat rather than beg for money to feed.Wake up, stupid. 

 amen

The cop in the picture for the sit/lie story is not a san francisco police officer. She is a security guard for the main library. Just thought you should know.

 So you're saying the new law is getting people off the streets here in the Haight? Sounds like it's working so far.

When the eventual lawsuit results (so far why do you think there have been no arrests?), I am waiting to see how the city defends the fact that homeowners have the right to sit on sidewalks in front of their home while renters do not. Enforcement or not, that element will be evaluated in determining the Constitutionality of the law. 

 Who cares about the stupid and pompous theories?  We don't live in ivory towers, we live in the real world terrorized by punks with pitbulls.  End of story.