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."
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