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San Francisco's Prop L: Sit-Lie

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If Proposition L passes in San Francisco, homeless people, drifters begging for change, and street musicians would all be subject to fines or arrest. 

Street musician Samuel Warber says he knows what will happen if Prop. L passes.  He's seen what goes on in Santa Cruz, which passed a similar law.

"I've been down there where people were sitting around and then the police would show up and you'd have to move, or people would start scattering, 'cause of the rule," says Warber. "Most of the time people are like rats, they just go somewhere else."

In June, The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-to-3 not to adopt a citywide sit-lie ban.  But Mayor Gavin Newsom went ahead and put Prop. L on the ballot himself.  And the city's police chief, George Gascon, supports the measure.  Gascon disagrees with critics who say sit-lie would criminalize the homeless. 

"The law requires a warning first," says Gascon. "Then the law requires a citation.  It's only upon total refusal to move that an arrest will occur.  And the reality is people generally do not refuse to follow directions of an officer."

The debate over Proposition L has been heated in the Haight District. Jessica Naugle is against sit-lie.  She works at the "All You Knead" restaurant half a block away from the intersection of Haight and Ashbury.  Naugle worries if Prop. L passes, it will change the atmosphere of the neighborhood.

 "A lot of the people that come to Haight Street and end up living around here add to the flavor, and historically this street has been sort of a place of wayward folk, and I really think that trying to criminalize that would really destroy sort of the underlining energy of the street," says Naugle.

But a block down on Haight Street, Karina Rogers has a 'Yes on L' sign hanging in the window of the toy store she manages.  Rogers says she's tired of cleaning up feces and urine from her storefront.  She and employee Jacob Palmer say there is also a question of safety.

"A few months ago my assistant manager got bitten by a dog from a homeless guy. I don't know if he's really homeless or not, but he was really dirty. He was one of the people just sitting on the street," says Palmer.

Those against the sit-lie ban say the police already have the power to stop street people from harassing passersby. 

Further complicating matters is Prop. M.  That measure calls for more community policing and foot patrols.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who represents the Haight District, says that's a better solution to dealing with aggressive or disrespectful behavior. 

"Nobody should have to walk with any anxiety or in fear on any street in our city.  So the question that is begged here, and what I think these propositions beg, is what is the most effective tool to help alleviate any of that distress?" says Mirkarimi.

If Prop. M gets more votes than L, it will kill the sit-lie measure.  Police Chief Gascon opposes M.  He says forcing cops onto foot patrol means fewer quick responders in their vehicles.  It's also unclear if Prop. L could be fully enforced. Gascon says sidewalk squatters probably wouldn't disappear anytime soon. 

If Prop. L passes, Sam Warber predicts he and other drifters will just have to become a little more nimble.

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