Homeless Camps at Mercy of San Francisco Voters This Fall

by | June 22, 2016

By Emily Green

Voters in a city long weary of seeing sidewalks filled with homeless camps will soon get the chance to prove just how willing they are to see them forcibly cleared.

An initiative by San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell to allow authorities to remove an encampment, as long as its residents are given 24-hour written notice and the offer of a shelter bed or other form of housing, is among a number of initiatives headed for the November ballot.

Tuesday was the deadline for supervisors to submit ballot initiatives. It is also the way supervisors try to enact laws they can't get passed at the board.

That was the case Tuesday, as moderate supervisors submitted measures likely to be opposed by the board's progressive majority -- such as Farrell's proposal. Also introduced Tuesday was another attempt to tax sugary beverages.

Under Farrell's homeless camp measure, the city could seize the personal property of people living in camps and would be required to hold it for 90 days, except if the property presented a health or safety risk. The city could dispose of the property if it's not claimed within that time.

The departments of Public Health, Public Works and Homelessness and Supportive Housing would be charged with enforcing the law. The initiative does not say how long the city has to offer people shelter before removing them from encampments. The signatures of four supervisors are required to place an initiative on the ballot, and Farrell was joined by Scott Wiener, Katy Tang and Malia Cohen.

Supervisor John Avalos criticized Farrell's measure as a political ploy.

'It's a fallacy'

"There are not enough shelter beds for all the people living in encampments," Avalos said. "We all know it. So why this legislation? It's a fallacy, and they are just politicizing the ballot in a desperate move to give moderates some issue to campaign on in November."

Farrell countered: "This is about the right policy for the city of San Francisco, and the reality is we are designating significant amounts of additional revenue in the budget for shelter and housing." He said allowing people to stay in tent camps is "inherently unhealthy, incredibly dangerous."

Avalos and the Coalition on Homelessness want the city to provide bathroom and garbage services to homeless camps. Avalos said he plans to introduce the legislation in the coming months.

Cohen introduced a ballot measure to impose a tax of 1 cent per ounce on sugary beverages.

In 2014, voters rejected a similar measure, but the tax was 2 cents per ounce. That measure required a two-thirds majority to pass because it was a designated tax -- the revenue would have gone to children's nutrition and physical education programs. Cohen's measure requires a simple majority to pass because the money would go into the city's general fund.

Missed the deadline

But there was drama even getting the measure on the November ballot. Its supporters worked for months to get the thousands of signatures needed to place it on the ballot but submitted them a day late and missed the May 11 deadline.

So Cohen was forced to get the support of three colleagues. Farrell, Wiener and Eric Mar ultimately signed on. Several progressive supervisors oppose the sugar tax because they consider it regressive.

In another ballot initiative backed by moderates, Wiener introduced a measure that would mandate that the police force operate a neighborhood crime unit of at least 60 officers to address an increase in break-ins, thefts from vehicles, vandalism and homeless encampments.

Also placed on the ballot Tuesday were two measures identical to legislation before the Board of Supervisors, put there by moderate supervisors as bargaining chips for board negotiations.

One, by Farrell, echoes his ordinance to legalize construction of rent-controlled in-law units. The ordinance is to counter one introduced by progressive Supervisor Aaron Peskin that seeks to do the same thing, but would allow fewer in-law units to be built and prevent any reduction of commercial space for their creation.

Affordable housing

Another measure, by Supervisor Katy Tang, echoes her legislation to allow 100 percent affordable housing projects to have three extra stories. The progressive supervisors, led by Peskin, have introduced a counterproposal, but with more restrictions. The two sides are at an impasse.

Finally, Peskin introduced a measure to ban candidate-controlled general purpose committees, which collect contributions to support political causes or candidates. Compared with regular candidate committees, candidate-controlled general purpose committees have relatively few restrictions and disclosure requirements. Mayor Ed Lee was heavily criticized for relying on a general purpose committee leading up to his 2011 run for mayor.

(c)2016 the San Francisco Chronicle