[Hpn] San Francisco, CA - San Francisco bans urinating in public - Fines up to $500 - San Jose Mercury News - July 2, 2002

Editor Editor <hccjr@bellsouth.net>
Thu, 04 Jul 2002 06:22:08 -0500

San Francisco bans urinating in public

By Renee Koury - San Jose Mercury News - July 2, 2002

In a city rife with bar hoppers and street people relieving themselves on
sidewalks, alleys and busy streets, the stench of urine has joined fresh
sourdough and coffee as among the city's famous aromas.

And the usually tolerant board of supervisors is no longer going with the flow.

In a unanimous vote Monday, the board set aside its usual progressive politics
to make it illegal to urinate or defecate on city property.

Violators will be subject to fines up to $500. The board exempted anyone who
can't get to a toilet because of a ``verified medical condition.''

``All you have to do to see that this is a problem is to walk down the streets
of San Francisco and smell,'' said Supervisor Tony Hall, who has been pushing
since January for the ban.

His colleagues agreed, though they were divided on whether to require more
public toilets before implementing the ban. They narrowly defeated an amendment
that would have delayed the new law until the health commission decided there
were enough toilets.

The problem of public urination has become more pronounced in recent years,
business owners say, driving away tourists and visitors whose impression of the
city is decidedly sullied by the odoriferous streets.

``That kind of behavior is terrible for business,'' said Kathleen Harrington,
owner of Harrington's Bar and Grill, and a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate
Restaurant Association. ``The fact that we had to fight to get this ban is
really a sad commentary. Why is it controversial? Only in San Francisco.''

Similar laws elsewhere

In approving the law, San Francisco joins a growing list of cities passing
ordinances specifically outlawing public urination. Walnut Creek adopted a ban
last month making it a crime punishable by up to six months in jail. Sacramento,
San Diego and Santa Cruz also cite people for urinating in public.

Up until now, San Francisco and other cities have ticketed offenders using a
state law banning ``dumping of waste'' on city streets, or indecent exposure.
But it can be tougher to prosecute under those laws; courts have said urine and
feces don't count as ``dumped waste.'' And indecent exposure is a sexual

In San Francisco, the waste seems heaviest in the center of town: Union Square,
the Civic Center, Market Street, Sixth and Mission streets, and South of Market.
Supervisors said the culprits are not just the homeless, but also drunken bar
hoppers and others who just can't wait to get to a toilet. Supervisor Mark Leno
said he was especially miffed one day to see a couple of guys relieving
themselves outside of a construction site near the main library, at Civic Center

``For whatever reason, people are choosing to act in a very anti-social
manner,'' Leno said. ``I love this city. I take it personally if people want to
desecrate our city. And it's mostly a male thing, I have to say.''

San Francisco has about 30 free-standing, coin-operated restrooms, operated by
J.C. DeCaux, the same company that provides the city's bus shelters. Homeless
people can use them for free by inserting city tokens provided ``by the
bucketful,'' officials said. City parks and public buildings also offer free

But most public bathrooms close on nights and weekends, homeless advocates say.
They say the new law simply punishes the down and out, who have no homes to go
to, to perform a basic human function.

The city has had difficulty finding neighborhoods willing to accept new public
toilets. In some of the rougher areas of the city, the toilets have been
notorious for attracting drug dealers and prostitutes.

Supervisor Chris Daly proposed delaying enforcement until the city took an
inventory of public toilets and added more if the health commission decided more
were needed. But his idea was rejected by a 6-5 vote after Hall complained it
would effectively kill the law; the commission might never figure out how many
toilets are enough, Hall said.

`An issue of civility'

The supervisors agreed to call on city departments to create more public
bathrooms and list locations of existing ones.

Hall insisted the new law isn't aimed at street people, but at human decency.

``This is not a homeless issue; it's an issue of basic civility,'' he said.
``It's not a toilet issue. It's common decency. If you have to go, handle it.''

Hall acknowledged the fine would be too much for homeless people, but he hopes
hauling them into court will get them funneled into social services.

Harrington, the restaurant owner, agreed: ``If someone can't make it to a
toilet, they need a lot more help than just another toilet,'' she said. ``It's
going to raise awareness about what's going on.''

The supervisors are expected to give final approval to the law next week, and it
was expected to be signed by Mayor Willie Brown before going into effect in 30

Contact Renee Koury at rkoury@sjmercury.com or (415) 394-6878.

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