Civil disagreements

Haight Street merchants are by no means united in support of sit-lie

People who sit and lie down on Haight Street sidewalks are at the center of a battle over Prop L

On Aug. 24, San Francisco's simmering debate about Proposition L, a proposed ordinance that would ban sitting or lying down on city sidewalks, bubbled over at a neighborhood meeting held on the block where all the controversy originated. Merchants affiliated with the Haight-Ashbury Improvement Association (HAIA) — a neighborhood association that backs Prop, L — got an earful from Jim Siegel, who owns a Haight Street shop called Distractions. "I told them, you better be prepared to put your money where your mouth is," Siegel, still steaming, recounted to the Guardian shortly after the HAIA meeting.

A Haight Street business owner for 34 years who once endured a period of homelessness himself, Siegel said he views Prop. L as an unnecessary law that would target the homeless and advance gentrification along a historically alternative strip. He was gearing up to rally Haight Street businesses that oppose Prop. L, and had gone on Facebook to publicly call for a boycott of HAIA-affiliated businesses. ("I will monitor HAIA activities and keep you posted," he wrote in a recent Facebook post.)

Kent Uyehara, who owns FTC Skateboards and SFO Snowboards on Haight Street and chairs HAIA's merchant group, is in many ways Siegel's foil on this issue. Asked about the meeting, he chided Siegel's in-your-face approach and delivered a line one might expect from someone touting something dubbed the Civil Sidewalks Ordinance: "I was like, can't we just agree to disagree?"

Uyehara told us he's been canvassing businesses up and down Haight Street to try to garner support for Prop. L. "This legislation is not targeting any individual group. It's not targeting the homeless," he said. "It's targeting behavior." He had a friend who was stabbed on Haight Street, he added, and wanted to do something to prevent future violence.

As for the merchants up and down the strip, it's tough to say just how many are in Uyehara's camp versus Siegel's camp. When the Guardian called Haight Street businesses to try to gauge opinions, we learned that — contrary to reports suggesting that a unified corridor of fed-up merchants is driving the push for the new law — perspectives on Prop. L were nuanced, varied, and without much of a consensus.

And some merchants complain that the drum-beat of publicity for sit-lie — based on reports that the Haight has become dangerous — have hurt the local business climate and driven away customers.

A lot of it comes down to perspective. Rick Braun, a co-owner of Positively Haight, a shop that has been selling tie-dye for 18 years, described himself as "a live and let live" kind of guy — and his attitude applies to the kids who hang out in front of his store as well as the businesses that support Prop. L. "I realize how hard it is to make ends meet," he said. "But there are already enough ways to deal with it without being so police state about it."

Usually, he said, when he asks people blocking his storefront to move, they do. Braun said he tries not be mean about it — in a way, he can relate to kids who just aren't interested in being part of the mainstream. Recalling the mid-1980s when he arrived fresh out of UC Santa Cruz with a backpack and a car to live in, he said, "We could've gone that route — but we found a way to make a life out of it."

Justin Lawrence, who has been the shop manager for 10 years at Haight Ashbury Tattoo & Piercing (formerly Anubis), also struck a note of balance. "On some levels, it's a good idea," he said. "A lot of times, it discourages people from coming to Haight Street. At the same time, I think it's not really the right answer. More foot patrol of police would be more effective than making it illegal to sit on the sidewalk."


I believe that knowing this article will be printed is keeping the above business owners from expressing their true feelings.

Why would any business owner, who has invested their time and money to grow their business, to be self reliant, be OK, with homeless people sitting on the streets begging for money from people that are willing to work?

The couple in the photo at the beginning of this article appear to be youthful with two arms and two legs. Why should they be a drag on local business owners simply because they are content with begging for money from those that work rather then earn money themselves?

Please don't say their are no jobs! Simple cleaning the filth they are making in the streets is work that needs to be done. I know, I know, try getting them to do it, even if their was STILL ANOTHER PROGRAM in place to pay them.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 01, 2010 @ 3:31 am

Everyone should live by your definition of success? Money isn't everything and while business owners can blame whatever they'd like on lost revenue, I blame people like you and the members of HAIA that support PROP L for trying to limit my right to exist in public space.

Guess what? You don't have to give people money if you don't want to. Let other people give their money away if they like.

Everyone has the exact same rights to the sidewalks. Myself, the homeless, you, and small business owners... and don't bring taxes into it, because that's not how it works.

Because you want to impress your obviously hard working ethics on everyone, you would like it to be illegal for me to sit down and read a book on the sidewalk while waiting for MUNI? Make it illegal for me to have a seat on the sidewalk outside my apartment on a nice day? As the article quoted: "Live and let live", friend.

Unemployment is at 9.something percent right now and you're preaching that there are jobs for everyone? Tell that to the people that are being counted in that unemployment number. Tell that to the others that have been unemployed so long that they are no longer counted in that number.

I'm glad everything is going well for you, I just wish you were a little more appreciative for all that you have... though I'm totally fine with any way that you conduct yourself, as long as it doesn't impede my ability to live mine.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 02, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

Do you really honestly believe you would get arrested for sitting outside your apartment waiting for MUNI? What a lousy argument. If anyone thinks this is what would happen because they passed Prop L, I wholeheartedly think they should vote against it. But simple, common sense makes me think that would not be the case.

Have you ever been spit on for nicely asking someone sleeping in your doorway to move? I have.

Have you ever cleaned human feces out of your doorway? I have.

It's is completely ironic that you basically accuse someone of lacking empathy, because I'm not seeing any in your post.

Posted by Guest brainiac5 on Sep. 03, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

"Do you really honestly believe you would get arrested for sitting outside your apartment waiting for MUNI? "
Why wouldn't you?
Honest question.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 03, 2010 @ 11:18 pm

why would you? The PD don't arrest for being stupid in public. If you are so tired after coming out your front door that you feel the need to sit on the sidewalk, not on your stoop or steps, but on the sidewalk and an officer asks you to stand up because you are blocking the sidewalk (pretty small sidewalk or extremely large person, stand up. Sounds easy - no arrest - no violation.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2010 @ 8:24 am

It's good you bring up your doorway, which I assume is private property? This law will not apply to private property. This law will actually drive more of the folks sitting and lying on the sidewalks into private stoops, since the law doesn't apply. You'll be relying on the same unenforced laws then. Sit/Lie, PROP L, will have done nothing except make this situation you complain about worse.

Voting for PROP L will feel good for a second, but it will do absolutely nothing to help your situation.

We cannot legislate bad behavior away. We can't make being rude illegal. For the rest of our lives we'll be dealing with things that are unpleasant. Don't let them beat you. These things are a pain in the ass, but life moves on.

It's awful that you've been harassed in your neighborhood. The police should maybe spend more time on beats in your community enforcing current sidewalk obstruction and aggressive panhandling laws (and it sounds like trespass laws in your case). Maybe you could talk with your local neighborhood groups and try to organize and lobby the police. If they ignore your pleas, maybe we should pass legislation that makes it illegal for the police to not enforce current laws.

What it really sounds like you want is something more like PROP M, which would encourage the police to work with communities more effectively than they have in the past to establish better beat routes. Have a look:

I'm not necessarily for PROP M, but it sounds like something that would help your situation significantly more than PROP L.

Love and Respect.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 05, 2010 @ 4:44 pm

The whole Sit/Lie issue is a diversion created to polarize people by appealing to their basest prejudices.

The more I think about it, the more ridiculous the whole issue becomes.

One can predict the future:

If Prop L is rejected, we who value our Constitutionally mandated civil rights will heave a sigh of relief, but the "annoying" kids will still be at the mercy of elements and fate-- their opportunities kind of lost in the shuffle.

If Prop L passes: San Francisco activists can do what they do best: beeline to Haight Street and lie down en-masse, get arrested, and win 15 minutes of fame.

Meanwhile the unprovoked wars abroad and the increasing immiseration of American communities continue... and the kids still get lost in the shuffle.

We Americans will do what we do best: blindly moving "forward", never deigning to glance back at our roadkill.

Posted by Robert B. Livingston on Sep. 01, 2010 @ 9:17 am

How someone like Kent Uyehara, who makes a living from selling shirts and skateboards to some of the most hassled people on city sidewalks, could be pushing to restrict the use of public space even further is a little mind boggling.
If you don't like being hassled by cops, it's a good idea to never buy ANYTHING from this fascist in skater's clothing.
Americans who love freedom should take note of the merchants in this article and spend accordingly.
Watch for the Civil Sidewalks signs in windows. Tell them you won't be purchasing anything from them ever again, and why.

Support business owners who don't want to put you in jail for sitting on a sidewalk, and let the rest starve themselves out of business with their anti-social behavior.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 03, 2010 @ 1:56 pm

I have been running a business on Haight Street for the last 8 years. On the surface, Prop L sounds good - there is no reason to sit or lie on the sidewalk in front of my store. We have had people camp out in our foyer before, and it's a nightmare. Aside from urination, defectation, and general filth left behind, people aren't always agreeable to move. We've been threatened. We've been spit on. We've been forced to call the police and had people arrested and restraining orders issued. That this article doesn't paint this kind of picture makes me think the writer has cherry picked information for their own agenda.

Also, most small businesses want NOTHING to do with getting involved with political agendas, regardless of their personal feelings. I certainly wouldn't make any public statement on Prop L. If 55 out of 140 are on board for Prop L, that makes me think the support is HIGH among business, not low.

I agree that police foot patrols would be far more effective - but the police will tell you they simply don't have the budget to implement it. That's what's missing from this law. Police aren't going to arrest somebody for sitting or lying on the sidewalk if that's all they are doing - they don't have the time or resources to deal that. It's more likely that the law will either be completely ineffective due to lack of enforcement, or that the law will be imposed when businesses call the police with a problem that won't go away.

As a liberal kid growing up, I have always been skeptical against any legisaltion that seems victimless. Ideologically, I have a big problem with Prop L. I don't like the idea of making somone a criminal simply for being homeless. But common sense and practicality make me think this is not what the effect of this law would be.

Before you paint me as some intolerant insensitive, you should know that my father was homeless in San Francisco, living out the end of his life in an SRO downtown. Not only do I empathize with the homeless and down and out, I have spent a lot of time around them. It's the young idealist in me that hates the idea of this law, but the older pragmatist in me that thinks it's not such a bad idea.

Posted by Guest brainiac5 on Sep. 03, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

"making somone a criminal simply for being homeless"
You would be making someone a criminal simply for sitting on the sidewalk.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 03, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

Stand up for your rights and don't give your hard earned dollars to some character who thinks you should be jailed for sitting on a sidewalk.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 03, 2010 @ 11:22 pm

What exactly is your answer?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2010 @ 12:06 am

Kent Uyehara of FTC Skateboards and SFO Snowboards on Haight Street is being hypocritical when he tells Jim Siegel "Can't we just agree to disagree?"

Uyehara obviously doesn't like people sitting and lying on the sidewalk. Just as obviously, those people want to be able to sit and lie on the sidewalk, otherwise they wouldn't do it. But he isn't satisfied to simply disagree with their choice. He wants to have the law make them into criminals.

His store deserves to be boycotted. I don't think most skateboarders are that intolerant. In fact I'll bet some of the young people he wants cops to roust from the sidewalks are skateboard owners who may be his customers. They should stop giving their money to business owners who disrespect them.

-Starchild, Candidate for School Board

Posted by Starchild (Candidate for School Board) on Sep. 06, 2010 @ 1:08 am

Kent Uyehara is happy to make MONEY by confusing his products and store with street art, grafitti, and films of skaters illegally skating throughout San Francisco. When it comes to his storefront though, he wants more laws that make criminals out of innocent kids just like his skateboarding customers.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 06, 2010 @ 8:15 pm

I think that it should be pointed out that while business owners may like the idea, the employees do not necessarily agree. I worked on Haight for a long time and have talked to many of my friends who currently still do. At chachacha, the owner (who is never there) supports it, but the staff is in unified opposition to it. At Recycled, the owner thinks it is a good idea because he is tired of people pissing and shitting in front of his store, but his employees understand that those things are not done sitting down when in public, thus making the law useless. I would not be surprised to learn that business owners in tough economic times would love a scapegoat to increase their profit margins. The employees who make a wage or work off of tips generally have a much more nuanced and often negative view of the law.

Posted by Nate Miller on Sep. 06, 2010 @ 8:53 pm