Political Notebook: Board adopts revised rules for Castro plazas
by Matthew S. Bajko
San Francisco supervisors adopted rules governing the Castro's two outdoor plazas after several revisions were made to placate homeless advocates' concerns about the regulations.
Once signed into law by the mayor, the rules will clarify various restrictions users of either Jane Warner or Harvey Milk plazas at the intersection of Market and Castro streets will have to abide by, such as no smoking in either of the outdoor spaces. The rewritten legislation is similar to regulations for San Francisco parks.
The divided 6-5 vote during the Tuesday, January 31 meeting came after Board President David Chiu pushed through an elimination of a ban on large shopping carts in the plazas. Critics had claimed the rule would mean anyone pushing such grocery carts through the area would have had to circumnavigate the plazas.
"It is a modest piece of legislation," said Chiu before casting his vote. "I think this legislation reiterates what is in our parks codes and reiterates that we will treat our parklets as we do our parks. I think that is reasonable."
Despite his objection to rescinding the shopping cart ban, gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener voted with the majority to adopt the measure. The revisions were not enough, however, to overcome concerns expressed by the board's other two out members. District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague and District 9 Supervisor David Campos voted to oppose the rules.
Wiener did support three other changes made to the initial legislation, which he had introduced on behalf of the Castro Community Benefit District.
The rules specify that the CBD, which oversees maintenance of the plazas, will lock up removable street furniture it provides at the plazas between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. But the regulations now clarify that anyone can bring and sit on their own chairs in the plazas anytime.
Rather than a 24-hour ban, sleeping in the plazas will now be prohibited between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. First-time offenders would have their tickets cleared if they accept services within 30 hours. The change means daytime napping will be allowed.
The ban on camping at both plazas remains. But the language barring tents and sleeping bags was revised so any offense is considered an infraction and will not lead to jail time.
How stiff the penalties those caught camping in the plazas would face had become a flash point in the debate over the rules. Last Friday night the police cited Bob Offer-Westort, a human rights organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness, with violating state penal code after he set up a tent at Jane Warner Plaza.
If convicted of the misdemeanor, Offer-Westort could face a $1,000 fine, six months in jail or both. He was given a court date of March 19 but likely won't be prosecuted for what some saw as merely a publicity stunt.
Homeless advocates hailed the rule revisions as a "huge victory," though the coalition's executive director, Jennifer Friedenbach, added that, "The whole thing was ridiculous to begin with."
Had Wiener reached out to the larger community, rather than just merchants and property owners, before introducing the measure, she said most of the complaints about the proposal could have been addressed.
"I think the struggle for public spaces should continue. This has not solved the debate," said Friedenbach. "If there had been an engagement of the community in the process to begin with, we probably would have arrived at these compromises. The biggest lesson learned in this is we should be talking to each other about solutions everyone can jump on the bandwagon to support."
Andrea Aiello, the CBD executive director, told the Bay Area Reporter that she was "very disappointed" in seeing the large shopping cart exclusion be eliminated. Although she conceded it hasn't really been an issue to date, Aiello pointed out that even just two carts can become a problem due to the parklets' small sizes.
"It just is another tool that could have been implemented to help the CBD maintain the plaza," she said.
As for the other changes, Aiello said she could live with them.
"I really don't think people will be bringing their own personal chairs into the plaza, but if they do, maybe it will stop them from sitting in the planter beds in the middle of the night," she wrote in an email following the vote. "And as I said, the decrease in penalties is fine. So, I guess we have something we can work with that can help us keep the plazas enjoyable for all."
She did invite members of the homeless coalition to assist the CBD in keeping Harvey Milk Plaza clean, as Aiello said it "is often a disgusting mess in the morning, more than our cleaning company can handle, so we invite anyone ... to go there early in the a.m. to help keep it clean and inviting for all."
Community groups that had opposed the rules plan to hold a rally at 2 p.m. this Saturday (February 4) at Jane Warner Plaza. The time coincides with the dedication of a memorial plaque honoring the parklet's namesake, a former lesbian patrol special police officer who died in 2010 after a battle with ovarian cancer. Wiener is among those expected to speak at the ceremony.
"I would've preferred if the regs had been rejected altogether, but we got the best outcome we could have gotten. And we sent a message that we will continue fighting against anti-homeless legislation in the Castro and throughout the city," queer housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca told the B.A.R. "Public space is for everyone. The plazas are for everyone. Homeless queers need housing, jobs and health care, not criminalization."
LGBT question may be added to commission applications
One concern shared by both progressive LGBT leaders and Wiener is the dearth of out members on the city's various oversight bodies. As the B.A.R. pointed out in an online story last month, there are few LGBT people serving on many of the most powerful commissions.
The one exception is the Entertainment Commission, where there is a four-person queer majority on the seven-member panel. Oversight bodies for the port, police, and redevelopment each have just one out member.
There are no LGBT people on the fire, airport, or ethics commissions. Now the planning commission likely will be added to the list of panels with zero LGBT members.
Last Friday Chiu nominated Cindy Wu , a community planning manager for the nonprofit Chinatown Community Development Center, to fill a vacant planning seat.
The vacancy was created when Olague, who is bisexual, stepped down to become a supervisor following the resignation of Ross Mirkarimi. He left to become sheriff and is fighting charges that he abused his wife. The board's Rules Committee will vote on Wu's appointment at its meeting today.
Wiener said this week that he has heard from several LGBT people upset with the lack of LGBT representation on the planning commission. He declined to say if he would oppose Wu's nomination when it comes before the board.
But he did tell the B.A.R. that he is "disappointed we will now have another major commission, perhaps the most powerful, without an LGBT representative."
Chiu said he considered several LGBT applicants for the seat, but in the end, felt Wu was the best qualified. He expressed support of naming an out candidate the next time an opening occurred.
"Certainly, I looked at LGBT candidates who were very strong candidates. But Cindy has a very impressive background," said Chiu.
He did name two lesbians to serve on other panels. Chiu nominated artist Debra Walker to serve another term on the Building Inspection Commission.
He also appointed Arcelia Hurtado , executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, to serve on the Board of Appeals. A mother of two sons with her partner, Nicole Solis, Hurtado served on the board of Our Family Coalition and co-chaired the annual dinner for Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom.
"I wish I could have appointed more individuals but I only had a handful of nominations to make," said Chiu, who as president makes nominations to board-designated seats. "I have literally, over the last week or so, been asking folks for candidates who have wonderful qualifications who happen to be LGBT."
Part of the problem in finding LGBT candidates lies in the fact that the application to be a city commissioner does not ask about sexual orientation. The forms do have boxes where applicants have the option to specify their ethnicity and gender.
When asked by the B.A.R. if he would support adding a question about sexual orientation, Chiu pledged to look into how to make the change.
"This is the first time this has been raised with me," he said.
Wiener also was unaware that the forms do not ask people if they identify as LGBT until asked about it this week.
"I didn't even realize that," he said, "and we absolutely should" have a box asking about sexual orientation.
LGBTs urged to support Obama's re-election
Supporters of President Barack Obama 's re-election bid are urging LGBT Bay Area residents to purchase tickets to his upcoming local fundraisers.
Obama's campaign is hosting a reception at 6 p.m. Thursday, February 16 at the Regency Center, 1300 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. The lead singer of the group Soundgarden, Chris Cornell , is slated to perform.
While VIP tickets are going for as much as $10,000 (it includes a photo reception for two), individuals can buy $100 general admission tickets.
"We are hoping to have a large LGBT contingent in attendance, both at the $100 ticket price section, as well as in the $1,000 VIP/preferred seating section," Kathy Levinson , an out lesbian from Los Altos who is co-chair of the Obama for America LGBT National Finance Committee, wrote in an email.
To make sure LGBT contributors' dollars are bundled together, Levinson asks that they buy their tickets through the webpage at http://my.barackobama.com/February16SanFranReception?custom1=205504.
The box that asks "Who encouraged you to make this contribution?" should have the following information added to it: 205504 Kathy Levinson.
There will also be a small 60-person dinner at the home of Nicola Miner and Robert Mailer Anderson in San Francisco prior to the ballroom event. The dinner is $35,800 per person and will include remarks and Q&A with the president.
Tickets can be bought at https://donate.barackobama.com/page/contribute/o2012-february16sanfrandinner?custom1=205504. Once again, LGBT donors are asked to make sure "205504 Kathy Levinson" appears in the box asking about who urged them to contribute.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings around 11 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reports on the latest developments in the fight over boundary lines for San Francisco supervisor districts.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail mailto:.