[Hpn] San Francisco toilet war update

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Thu, 11 Oct 2001 11:15:49 -0800

Fears about civil liberties put public toilet crackdown on hold

Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, October 11, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2001/10/11/MN70942.DTL

San Francisco's proposed law to crack down on illegal drug activity,
prostitution and loitering in the city's public toilets has been delayed
amid concerns about civil liberties, including those raised by one
supervisor who said he'd rather have someone shoot heroin in the bathroom
than on the street in public view.

Supervisor Chris Daly, who represents the South of Market area, Hayes Valley
and portions of the Mission, speculated that police could use the proposed
law to harass or intimidate minorities, the homeless and the poor.

"This is not the civil liberties way to go. This is not the San Francisco
way to go," Daly said Monday during the Board of Supervisors debate on the

The legislation would ban loitering within 20 feet of the self-cleaning
public toilets and allow just one person inside the commode at a time,
unless a child or disabled person requires an attendant.

Supervisor Tony Hall proposed the law to give cops a new tool to deal with
the illicit activity that has blossomed around the toilets, which are
manufactured and maintained by JCDecaux Co.

Daly said the automated toilets had been placed in some of the city's most
troublesome areas, such as the drug-plagued corner of 16th and Mission

"Yes it's a hot spot for heroin distribution in San Francisco, yes it's a
tough corner," said Daly, a former housing activist in the neighborhood. "I
think it's a better corner with that toilet there so people have that
option. I'd rather have someone go and shoot up in the toilet than right
outside the toilet, to be honest with you.

"That's the everyday reality of life on 16th Street."

Hall was taken aback by Daly's comments.

"It's really hard for me to buy the argument . . . that it's OK for people
to shoot up in a toilet," said Hall, who represents neighborhoods west of
Twin Peaks. "That just doesn't make any sense."

The controversy over the 25 public toilets is just the latest political
fight in a decade of battles over the homeless and unsavory street behavior
in San Francisco. The conflict inevitably boils down to a push for law and
order versus protection of civil liberties.

"This isn't going to solve homelessness, this isn't going to solve crime,
this isn't going to solve the war on the terrorists," Hall said of his
proposal. "What it's going to do is allow people, law-abiding citizens, to
use public toilets. And what it's going to do is require those who are
abusing public toilets, by shooting up in them or turning tricks, to regard
the civil liberties and the civil rights of those other people."

After the debate, a split Board of Supervisors delayed the legislation for a

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick requested even more time, saying he wanted a
chance to hear from city agencies other than the Police Department about
what they could do to address the problems, many of which stem from
substance abuse and poverty.

"A lot of the people in these situations are not necessarily intentionally
committing crimes," McGoldrick said.

Hall said the delay would have one affect: "It's just going to encourage the
type of street life that has made San Francisco the laughingstock of the
country right now."

Robert Begley, who heads the hospitality-backed Hotel Council, agreed.

"Chris Daly can say (the crackdown) is not the San Francisco way to go, but
the tourists are saying that if that's the way, then they're going away,"
said Begley, who has received numerous complaints from visitors about the
condition of San Francisco's streets.

Sister Bernie Galvin, who for years has worked with the homeless, said that
thinking was flawed.

"This city should have learned a long time ago that the policing of homeless
people has not done anything to help homeless people, this city or the
appearance of the city," she said.

What's needed, she said, is for City Hall to make affordable housing,
substance abuse treatment and mental health care -- "the kinds of things
that really help homeless people" -- priorities.

E-mail Rachel Gordon at rgordon@sfchronicle.com.

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle   Page A - 17

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