[Hpn] San Francisco Homeless lose fight on cart seizures

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 23 Oct 2001 09:43:51 -0700

Homeless lose fight on cart seizures
S.F. board rejects notice requirement

Rachel Gordon, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 23, 2001
©2001 San Francisco Chronicle


Over the objection of San Francisco homeless advocates, a split Board of
Supervisors opted for business as usual yesterday and shot down a plan that
would have required the city to give 24 hours notice before confiscating
unattended belongings from public property.

The legislation, months in the making and endlessly discussed in public
meetings, would have prohibited city workers from taking people's unattended
possessions and placing them in storage without a warning.

Backers said the law was needed to protect homeless people from losing their
medication, clothing, bedding and the shopping carts and knapsacks that hold
them. Under the current system, the city is supposed to remove unattended
belongings from public property and place them in storage for 90 days,
giving people a chance to retrieve them. Few of the items are ever picked

The proposal, while seemingly simple on its face, turned into a battle over
civil rights, personal responsibility, poverty and the blow to the city's
tourist-based economy since the terrorist attacks. Emotional views about
homelessness, which has vexed elected officials and bureaucrats for well
more than a decade, were woven throughout.

Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano, who sponsored the bill, said he
was trying to address one tiny aspect of the problem -- how the city deals
with homeless people's possessions -- but acknowledged that it grew into a
debate over something much larger.

"I think the public has the right to be frustrated with us. I think the
public has the right to feel that we've been remiss. It is, truly, an 800-
pound gorilla," Ammiano said of homelessness.

The legislation, pushed by the Coalition on Homelessness, was opposed by
business groups that want the city's streets cleaned up. Critics said the
24- hour notice requirement would hamper crews from ridding alleyways,
sidewalks and other public spaces of shopping carts and other belongings
that homeless people leave behind.

One component of Ammiano's plan that will probably be resurrected is a
proposal to increase the number of facilities where homeless people can
store their possessions -- and to spread them around to various
neighborhoods. That effort has widespread backing, including from the Brown

Administrators of the departments most involved, along with Mayor Willie
Brown, opposed Ammiano's notification plan. And in the end, Ammiano could
get only three of his 10 colleagues to vote with him for the legislation.
Joining him in support were Supervisors Chris Daly, Matt Gonzalez and
Gerardo Sandoval. 

Opposed were Supervisors Tony Hall, Mark Leno, Sophie Maxwell, Jake
McGoldrick, Gavin Newsom, Aaron Peskin and Leland Yee.

"I think this legislation is promoting a way of life that we have to do
something about," said Hall, the most vocal opponent.

The city, he said, already spends nearly $650,000 a year to collect, clean
and store shopping carts left in public places. Department of Public Works
Director Ed Lee said Ammiano's plan would have added at least $500,000 to
the cost. 

"I personally don't want to spend one more dime on a failed homeless
program," Hall said.

But Gonzalez questioned the estimate of added cost, and he suggested that
the plan might actually save the city money.

"The (city workers) are going to come back the next day and the property is
not going to be there," he speculated on the affect of giving people ample
warning to move their belongings.

If nothing else, he said, the city should give the proposed system a try.
Ammiano's legislation called for a six-month test.

Leno said he originally supported the plan but changed his mind after
hearing from merchants that the shopping carts and other items left on the
street sully neighborhoods and hurt business.

"We're in this very challenged time. They (business owners) are in a lot
more competitive situation, and the city, as a business, is in a more
competitive situation," Leno said of the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

His position reflected remarks the mayor made earlier that if San Francisco
is going to prosper, it has to clean up the city's image to attract more
visitors, particularly those within driving distance.

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

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle   Page A - 11

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