Upset with the removal of benches along a walkway at the Castro’s Harvey Milk Plaza, activists are planning to hold a sit-in there this Sunday.
The issue has rekindled the debate over use of the city’s public spaces, which first bubbled over in 2010 when the city adopted an ordinance restricting people from sitting and lying on city sidewalks. A similar sit-in was staged May 22, 2011 – Harvey Milk Day – to protest the sit/lie law.
As first reported in the Bay Area Reporter‘s Political Notebook November 1, the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District had the benches ripped out due to complaints that they were magnets for homeless people. Part of the problem was with the design of the benches.
The city’s Arts Commission refused to sign off on the initial concept for the benches that included armrests. The CBD, which paid for the installation as well as the removal of the benches, is storing them for now as it determines how best to activate the pedestrian plaza above the Castro Muni Station.
Their removal has brought mixed reactions. A local design critic blogger who goes by the name Kam posted about the plaza and asked the question seen in the photo at right.
“I am not sure what most people think of that but aesthetically the plaza looks much better with only the plain curving wall and it doesn’t smell as bad anymore,” the person wrote. “To be honest, it is weird that the homeless is actually gone at the moment because they can easily sleep on the ground too and there is nothing the official can do about it.”
The homeless who used to use the benches have simply congregated across the street at Jane Warner Plaza.
Advocates for the homeless have argued that there is no need to remove the benches and have been angered by the CBD’s decision. They also fault area business leaders who complained about the plaza situation and District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener for not finding another solution.
In an email sent by Tommi Avicolli Mecca, the housing rights activist wrote that the only reason the CBD had the benches removed is “because they don’t like who was sitting and sleeping on them (street people, homeless youth) so we’re reclaiming the space.”
They plan to retake the plaza at noon Sunday, November 18 by bringing their own “chairs, benches, signs, and our unbeatable spirit to protest this move against the use of public space,” according to the Facebook page for the protest.