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If a person or family is living in an R.V., it’s usually because they have no other choice. If those R.V.’s are parked on the Great Highway, or alongside Golden Gate Park, or in the Bayview, it’s because those are the last areas in town where parking a large vehicle is practical. In six months, thanks to a ruling by the Board of Supervisors on September 25th, these San Franciscans, most of whom are victims of the ongoing recession, will become criminals.

The ordinance will amend the current San Francisco Transportation Code to “prohibit the on-street parking of any vehicle over 22 feet in length or seven feet in height, camp trailers, fifth-wheel travel trailers, house cars,” – what exactly are house cars? – “trailer coaches, mobilehomes, recreational vehicles, or semi-trailers” – (finally, a term that doesn’t directly reference vehicles used by poor people –) “…between the hours of 12 a.m. And 6 a.m. when Municipal Transportation Agency signs are posted giving notice….”

This latest hate legislation has been a pet project of outgoing District 4 Supervisor, Carmen Chu, ever since her election to the Board of Supervisors. In the past, there hasn’t been adequate support and the measure has died. This time, however, it seems that leaving office and hoping to insure her appointment by Mayor Lee as Assessor and Recorder for the City and County of San Francisco in the near certain event that Phil Ting is elected to the Assembly, had created a sense of urgency to make points with the powers that be. Leaving office with a big “win” will go a long way toward furthering her political aspirations at the expense of poor people. At election time in San Francisco, victimizing poor and homeless people is a small price to pay for a coveted job.

The item was scheduled six weeks before Land Use Committee Chair Mar’s election, by Supervisor Mar, in the Land Use Committee. The legislation was passed unanimously by committee members Supervisor Mar, Supervisor Cohen, and Supervisor Wiener and sent to the full board for a final vote. Only Supervisors Campos, Avalos, Olague, and Kim voted against the legislation.

As usual, the excuse given for targeting poor and homeless people with discriminatory legislation is crime fighting. According to neighborhood groups, littering, lack of sanitation and drug dealing are the reasons they want these vehicularly housed San Franciscans out of their back yards. If they were even slightly inclined toward honesty, the real reason they don’t like to see marginally housed people in their neighborhoods is that they are uncomfortable around classes of people they see as beneath them.

The so-called solution they and Supervisor Chu propose is making yet another law. The idea that creating laws will somehow rid the area of crime is problematic. If I’m not mistaken, dumping trash and waste on the street or dealing drugs are activities that are already prohibited by current law.

Another misguided argument often used by the residents and officials in these areas is that the people living in their vehicles are outsiders. Based on outreach conducted by the Coalition on Homelessness, this is as absurd as the often touted idea that most of the homeless people in San Francisco come here from across the country to take advantage of the “hand outs” offered by the City. It’s ridiculous and self serving to believe that anyone would move across the country for $59 a month. Most homeless people in San Francisco are from San Francisco and most people living in their vehicles are locals. Many of the vehicularly housed people interviewed by the Coalition are not only San Franciscans, many are parked within a short distance of relatives or of the home they lost to the recession and the banks.. Many of the targets of this legislation are Supervisor Chu and Supervisor Cohen’s own constituents.

At a time when the City’s safety net of social services is stretched to the breaking point, it seems counterproductive for the Board of Supervisors to approve a measure that will, almost immediately, add men, women, and children to the ranks of San Francisco’s homeless population. For many vehicularly housed San Franciscans, their camper, R.V., motorhome or van –not so sure about “house car” – is their last possession. Under the new law, individuals will be cited a $65 fine for parking large vehicles overnight. If they can’t pay the fine, tickets pile up, and the vehicle will be towed. This new legislation will enable the City to take away that last possession because it makes a few people uncomfortable or because those same few people think it hurts their property values. At least they have property to value.

As it stands, with the amendment offered by Board President, David Chiu, the portions of the legislation impacting vehicularly housed people will not be implemented for 6 months. During that time, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority will conduct studies to determine the impact this legislation will have on the affected areas and the affected populations. Attempts to locate and secure parking areas adequate to serve the displaced residents will be made by both MTA and the Mayors Office of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Development. The legislation is not contingent upon their findings or on the success or failure of the attempts to locate parking or vehicle storage facilities. The findings will be reported back to the Board of Supervisors, and the Board of Supervisors could at that point repeal the law before it is implemented.

Carmen Chu’s hate legislation does nothing to directly address any of the concerns mentioned above. It does not, in any meaningful way, address illegal behaviors. Instead it criminalizes an entire class of San Franciscans based upon their economic and housing status. Jim Crow is alive and well in progressive San Francisco.


Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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