If you can't solve a complicated problem, why not just legislate away its symptoms? That appears to be the thinking of Supervisor Mark Farrell, who the Chronicle reports yesterday introduced an initiative that would give police the authority to forcibly clear homeless encampments.
If approved at the ballot box in November, the initiative would require that residents of the camps be given 24-hour notice and offered a shelter bed before authorities seized all of their belongings (items would be held 90 days for pickup before being discarded). Supervisor Farrell was joined by Katy Tang, Scott Wiener, and Malia Cohen — meeting the minimum requirement of four supervisors — in placing the measure on the ballot.
“This is about the right policy for the city of San Francisco," Farrell told the Chron, "and the reality is we are designating significant amounts of additional revenue in the budget for shelter and housing.”
Supervisor John Avalos, who opposes the measure, wasn't having it. “There are not enough shelter beds for all the people living in encampments,” Avalos explained. “We all know it. So why this legislation?"
"It’s a fallacy," he continued, "and they are just politicizing the ballot in a desperate move to give moderates some issue to campaign on in November.”
According to the Examiner, Avalos isn't the only one who sees an alternative motive behind Farrell's move. Jennifer Friedenbach of San Francisco Homeless Coalition called the measure nothing more than “fodder for people’s political campaigns.”
The measure comes after months of back-and-forth (and accusations of grandstanding) among the city's elected officials regarding what to do about homelessness. It was introduced on the deadline for supervisors to submit initiatives for the ballot, and was joined by other proposed measures like a soda tax and the creation of a neighborhood crime unit.
Police, of course, already have the power to clear encampments as evidenced by Mayor Ed Lee's April ordered citywide crackdown — a fact which lends weight to the claims of critics who allege this is all about politics.
Not so, says Farrell. “Anybody with an ounce of common sense understands that we should not encourage the spread of tent cities that endanger our neighborhoods,” he wrote in a press release. “Enough is enough. Encampments simply prolong homelessness, but ‘Housing Not Tents’ actually provides a solution.”
That this measure is being proposed despite the fact that a recent report by the city's Budget Analyst found SF's quality-of-life laws to be costly and ineffective suggests that our city officials are all out of ideas. But hey, that's not really news.