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San Francisco voters approve ban on sidewalk loitering

November 4, 2010 |  3:43 pm

A polarizing San Francisco measure that bans sitting or lying on public sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. was approved by more than 53% of voters this week and takes effect immediately.

The city now joins a host of others -- including Los Angeles -- with some sort of sidewalk ban that aims to discourage loitering, although San Francisco’s is among the most sweeping.

The measure stemmed from neighborhood and merchant concerns in the Haight Street neighborhood, where values of love and tolerance have been edged out by aggressive panhandling by homeless youths and frustration by a growing cadre of well-off homeowners.

The owner of a Haight Street skateboard shop, a self-described progressive who has suffered harassment by youths blocking his store entrance or demanding change, was among the key organizers in support of the ban.

He and other backers maintain that police will use the new tool to get problem youths to move on without having to cite many.

The ordinance calls for an initial warning. A first offense is an infraction, and repeat violations are misdemeanors that can earn offenders up to $500 in fines and 30 days in jail. Parks, plazas and public benches remain legal resting places.

Mayor and Lt. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom took the measure to voters after it was rejected by the Board of Supervisors as overly broad and likely to lead to profiling by police officers based on appearance, not behavior.

Homeless advocates characterized it as heartless and unconstitutional and have vowed to sue to overturn it. They contend that other laws that forbid blocking sidewalks and aggressive panhandling were sufficient and more narrowly targeted to the problem. San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon also backed the measure.

--Lee Romney in San Francisco

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