Policing 'Gutter Punks' in San Francisco

Heather Mac Donald defends a contentious law, spurred by frustration over migratory youths in Haight-Ashbury, that would ban sitting or lying on city sidewalks between 7 AM and 11 PM.

According to Mac Donald, the proposed Civil Sidewalks law is a means to control the city's rampant 'gutter punks,' who she says engage in hostile occupation of public space, terrorizing residents and merchants alike. Current laws only allow police to take action against those blocking sidewalks if a civilian complaint is lodged.

Opponents argue that the new sit-lie law does little to address the root problems of homelessness, such as the city's shortage of affordable housing, but Mac Donald argues more comprehensive government programs would be futile, as the youths in question see their condition as a lifestyle choice.

Other west coast cities like Seattle, Portland, and San Diego have already adopted similar legislation. The proposal is supported by Mayor Gavin Newsom and the city's new police chief and will come to a public referendum in November.

Mac Donald writes:

'That vote will reveal whether San Francisco is ready to join the many other cities that view civilized public space as essential to urban life.'

Full Story: The Sidewalks of San Francisco




Are there enough benches to accommodate folk who still wish to sit and rest? More often than not, that's why I find myself sitting on the curb.

A dubious and dangerous path

I'd be willing to bet that many of the benches have already been removed for similar reasons. In order to prevent the homeless from sleeping on them, they disappear and now no one can make use of this space.

What I would call a 'scorched-earth' approach to public space- where amenities are made unaccessible to all to prevent their use by an 'undesirable' segment of the population- has in my view become one of the greatest threats to urban public spaces that cities currently face. Calling it a 'civilizing' approach changes none of its detrimental effects.

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