Jane Warner Plaza to close for redesign
by David-Elijah Nahmod
Jane Warner Plaza at Castro and Market streets, which just underwent renovation as part of a $6 million sidewalk-widening project, will close in late February so that it can be redesigned following what officials and residents say is "really bad behavior" that has been occurring since the beginning of the year.
At a sometimes tense meeting last week, residents said they were fed up with the anti-social behavior and that the plaza was not honoring the memory of the woman for whom it was named, lesbian San Francisco Patrol Special Police Officer Jane Warner, who died of cancer in 2010.
While several attendees at the February 2 meeting called for a permanent closure of the space, gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener said he opposed that idea.
Andrea Aiello, the executive director of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, anticipates the plaza being closed until April, she said at a meeting of the Castro Merchants group last week.
Among the items expected to be redone are a bulb out around the planter by the Chevron station. Aiello said that the bulb out effectively raised the "floor" around the planter, thus lowering the height of the planter.
"Now it is totally being abused," she said in an email. "People are sleeping in the planter, having their dogs and cats sleep, pee, and poop in the planter."
She added, "There is really bad behavior from the people who sit there all day long, calling people 'faggot,' fighting with each other. They do not clean up after themselves."
At the community meeting at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center, tempers flared as complaints were made about the plaza, which is meant to serve as a pleasant open space for area residents and visitors to relax, and to honor Warner's memory.
Some of the approximately 75 people in attendance at the meeting felt that the current state of the plaza is disrespectful to Warner's memory and to the neighborhood as a whole.
"The plaza is a special place," said one attendee who declined to give his name. "It should be treated in a special way. It's our front door."
One young man was greeted with jeers when he entered the meeting room with his dog, which he said was a service animal. "Bullshit!" shouted several attendees, as Aiello called for civil discussion.
The man identified himself as Justin, but declined to give a last name. He said that he and his girlfriend were homeless, but that they both had jobs and didn't cause trouble.
Wiener pointed out that homelessness was often equated with the types of concerns raised but that there are distinctions.
"This meeting isn't about homelessness, it's about bad behavior," he said, pointing out that some of the perpetrators were not homeless people. "Homeless people have said they don't want to be there."
Among the issues cited were aggressive panhandling, fights, threats, and weapons. Several people mentioned a man who had stood in the plaza brandishing a crossbow.
"We went through the penal code and charged him with whatever we could," said San Francisco Police Captain Daniel Perea, who oversees Mission Station and was at the meeting.
"The city is under assault by people who are out of control," said area resident Mark McHale.
Aiello acknowledged that people were uncomfortable in the plaza, which they felt had become dangerous.
But others took a different stand. Kenneth Bunch, a former member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, felt that attendees were attacking and scapegoating the homeless.
"I don't think there are any conditions at the meeting under which those at the meeting would accept the presence of homeless in the plaza," Bunch said after the meeting. "The atmosphere was extremely venomous toward the homeless."
Bunch felt that the meeting was all about ridding the plaza of homeless people so local businesses can make more money.
Trey Allen said that more compassion and understanding is needed regarding some of the behavior in the plaza.
"Imagine being sleep deprived, with a toothache, bad health, and mental illness," he said at the meeting. "You're asking them to behave like us. It's like putting a square peg in a round hole."
Allen elaborated on his thoughts afterwards.
"Only when we address nutrition, shelter, physical health, and mental health will we see improvements," he said. "We must address the root cause of the problem or else we are just spinning our wheels."
But the vast majority of attendees were supportive of Wiener and Aiello's plans to clamp down on the current behavior in the plaza.
"It's about bad street behavior," Wiener said. "The bad street behavior has gone over the top the past several weeks. People fighting, screaming, yelling, threatening people with a crossbow, sleeping all day long across three chairs so others have no place to sit, piling bags and backpacks into the landscaping, crushing the plants."
A visit to the plaza before the community meeting to talk to people there elicited "no comment" from four couples seated at tables.
The supervisor said that he supported increased funding for services to the homeless and mentally ill, and that his office was working toward that goal. He also said that Laura's Law, a state law that provides for requiring severely mentally ill patients to undergo treatment against their wishes, might be a tool to be used in the future. The Board of Supervisors last year passed legislation to implement the law.
Adam Schindler, an outreach case manager for the San Francisco Fully Integrated Recovery and Service Teams, a branch of the San Francisco Department of Health, urged attendees to call his office's "HOT teams" if they saw someone who was in severe need of help.
Longtime activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca was not at the meeting but told the Bay Area Reporter that it was important not to have the homeless or mentally ill cited by the police.
"Bench warrants can actually prevent someone from getting housing," he said, pointing out that many of those cited did not have the money to pay their fines.
Aiello asked the community for input on events that could be held at the plaza once it reopens that would make it active and welcoming. Outdoor movie screenings and exercise/Tai Chi classes were among the suggestions, along with pet events such as dog adoptions. In a follow-up email, Aiello said another idea sent to her was to paint some of the chairs blue to reserve them for people with disabilities.
"I was very impressed with the turnout at the meeting," Aiello told the B.A.R. the following day. "It shows a real commitment to improving the neighborhood."
She said that Wiener would work on the legislative angle of making improvements, while the Department of Public Works would make the physical alterations.
"For the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, one of the key elements will be to keep the space activated with positive energy," Aiello said. "The CBD is very interested in working with the community on these ideas."
She invited interested people to contact her office at (415) 500-1181, or firstname.lastname@example.org HOT teams can be reached at (415) 734-4233.