San Francisco sued over Tenderloin's squalid conditions

UC Hastings College of Law, Tenderloin Merchants Association and a coalition of others, filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court against the City of San Francisco over the Tenderloin neighborhood's street conditions.  

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court- Northern District of California, does not seek monetary damages, but calls on the city to take immediate action and to clean up the neighborhood's sidewalks where the university is located. Plaintiffs argue the long-standing poor condition of the neighborhood has only worsened since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“All of its residents—housed and unhoused—are being put at risk by the policies, actions, and inaction of the City and County of San Francisco," said the complaint by a coalition of businesses and residents.

Often described as an open-air drug market, the lawsuit argues of the "decline of livability" in an abandoned neighborhood with "deplorable conditions" in what they characterize as a de facto containment zone. 

They complain about unsafe conditions, human waste on sidewalks, hypodermic needles and drug dealers on the streets. The compaint also said the sidewalks are dangerously overcrowded with tents that have exponentially increased in number since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. 

"There are many individuals in these tents themselves, meaning they have no ability to practice social distancing or any of the other recommendations from public health," said Rhiannon Bailard, executive director of operations at UC Hastings. 

The lawsuit acknowledges widespread testing of the homeless population has not been implemented by the city and argues they are being exempted from social distancing guidelines.  

The neighborhood's conditions seems to be effecting Hastings’ bottom line. They spent $66,836 on increased safety and security in the first month following COVID-19 public health recommendations. In addition, the university said students who decline admission often cite the neighborhood’s condition and safety concerns as a factor in their decision.  

An attorney for the plaintiffs with Walkup Law Office said the lawsuit was about giving area residents and business owners the benefit of their state and constitutional rights. 

People who want to patronize local Tenderloin businesses are asked to line up on sidewalks, but access to entryways are often times blocked by people’s belongings.  

Some plaintiffs said people living on the street have acted hostilely and have threatened them with violence. Near the Cadillac Hotel, an SRO on Eddy and Leavenworth, crowds of people living and congregating on the sidewalk have been seen not wearing masks or practicing physical distance.  

The complaint states it’s common for residents to walk blocks out of their way to avoid some of the more problematic areas. Instead of going outside to play, children will play games in common hallways of their buildings, the complaint said.  

The neighborhood has 20,000 residents, including 3,000 children. A 2019 study shows the overall homeless population of San Francisco increased by 20% from 2015-2019.  

The city attorney's office said they will respond to the suit once they have been served. 

"It is unfortunate that UC Hastings chose to go to court rather than allow that community process to proceed and produce a final plan, which will be issued this week," said John Coté with the city attorney's office.