On Tuesday, San Francisco supervisors will consider legislation to close the city’s parks overnight. If passed, no one will be allowed in parks run by the city's recreation department between midnight and 5am.
There are a few exceptions, including Golden Gate Park, where people will be allowed to drive or walk on paved roads and sidewalks, as long as they keep moving through and do not stop. People who violate the proposed law could face fines of up to $1000 and/or 6 months in county jail.
Advocates say the law will help stop vandalism and illegal dumping, but critics are concerned about its possible effect on homeless people who sleep in the parks.
John Miller, a Panhandle resident who jogs in Golden Gate Park, says he thinks it's a good idea. “In my opinion the people who are out at that time, they’re not doing your typical activities,” he says.
Andrew, a homeless man who also goes by the name “Nacho”, sleeps in Buena Vista park at night. He says if the parks were closed at night, homeless people like him would have to “deal with the streets and the doorways and then we get tickets every day and we get arrested. Here, we aren’t bugging nobody.”
Supervisor Scott Wiener, who introduced the legislation, says it’s not about homeless people sleeping in the parks. “It’s already illegal in San Francisco to sleep or camp in a park.”
Wiener says the law would allow the city to be tougher on vandalism. When an incident happens in the middle of the night, he says, not much can be done about it unless perpetrators are caught red-handed.
“So by having a preventative measure by being able to say to people the park is closed you need to step outside of the park, it’s going to be one more tool for the police and park control to use to prevent vandalism before it happens,” he says.
Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, is concerned that the police and the city could use the new legislation to punish people who sleep in the parks at night.
“It gives them an excuse, it gives them the political will, the cover, to say ok it’s time to crack down, let’s get all these homeless people out of the parks,” she says.
Friedenbach doesn’t think the legislation will make a difference to vandalism, and she fears that the police will have new orders to sweep out the approximately 300 people who currently sleep in parks.
“These kinds of initiatives have been tried over and over again, and they failed because there is simply nowhere for people to go. They don’t have housing, there’s not enough shelter,” she says.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors are scheduled to consider the new legislation Tuesday.