San Francisco goes all prim and proper

The city's mayor wants to stop people 'hanging' on the streets of the hippie haven. Will he destroy the essence of the place?

If you're going to San Francisco, you're still perfectly entitled to wear a flower in your hair. But visitors who want to sign up to other aspects of the hippie lifestyle are about to find things a whole lot harder: city authorities have unveiled new laws that aim to crack down on the time-honoured Californian pastime of turning on, tuning in and dropping out.

In a highly controversial move, police in the Haight-Ashbury district, where the Summer of Love began more than 40 years ago, will be able to stop stoned or just lazy locals from sitting or lying on the pavements. The so-called "sit-lie" laws, which will be in place from 7am to 11pm, are intended to purge the area of drug-takers and aggressive beggars, who have been accused of harassing tourists and shoppers. People who break the ban will be hit with fines of between $100 (£66) and $500, and up to 30 days in jail.

The rules were devised by San Francisco's high-profile mayor, Gavin Newsom, who recently moved to the area. He was shocked to discover that groups of drug addicts, who have traditionally used Haight-Ashbury's bohemian streets to smoke marijuana, were smoking crack cocaine openly. Mr Newsom, a Democrat, says he eventually resorted to banning "sit-lie" on the grounds that advocates for homeless people have failed to come up with a workable alternative. "All they say is 'maybe we can have a candlelight vigil', or 'let's go out and hold hands and have some pretty music and hear speeches that mean nothing'," Newsom told reporters. "There's that, and then there's reality."

That sort of tough talk cuts little ice in America's most left-wing major city, however. A coalition of community groups organised a demonstration against Mayor Newsom's new laws last week. About 1,000 protesters sat or lay in the spots where taking a daytime nap will soon become illegal. "Making it a crime to sit on the sidewalk will not make us safer. It will only turn more of us into criminals," said Nate Miller, an organiser. "It is antithetical to the whole spirit of Haight-Ashbury, and indeed of the entire city."

Opponents of "sit-lie" argue that the law would destroy an ambience that has turned the district into a minor tourist attraction. Visitors flock to coffee shops, bars and alternative stores selling tie-dye clothes, jewellery and smoking paraphernalia.

A tour of Haight-Ashbury on Thursday revealed evidence to back up the claims both of supporters and opponents: a few buskers and street performers sitting on the pavements were almost certainly an enhancement to the colourful neighbourhood. The same could not be said, however, for several groups of drug dealers openly selling crack cocaine. Local business leaders are divided about the proposed changes. Omar Mazouf, the owner of Daydreamz, a shop selling marijuana pipes and joss sticks, supports the new laws. "At present, people sit outside and harass my customers," he said. "As a storekeeper, the law says I'm also responsible for looking after the sidewalk by the door. So even if some guy's just quietly eating or smoking, that still leaves trash that we have to clean up."

Jill Johnson, who manages a nearby clothes store called Skunk Funk, said she hoped police would selectively enforce the rules. "No one minds, say, the guy over there who sits at a typewriter writing poems for tourists. But the street kids? They've normally got dogs, lots of them have run away from home, and they basically use the streets to party in. I've had to close the store early because two of them were having a fight outside. They beg aggressively, and scare people."

Haight-Ashbury became prominent in 1967, when large numbers of people migrated to San Francisco and ended up in the district because of its cheap accommodation. The area has become partially gentrified, upsetting many of those who came there in search of an alternative lifestyle. They are now co-ordinating the campaign against "sit-lie" from Bound Together, an anarchist bookstore. "The legislation is far too broad," said Ted Hexter, who was manning the till at the store. "In practice, it means they will pick on people who don't fit in."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Electronic Sub-System Design Verification engineer

Flexible working, annual bonus, pension & more.: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the oppor...

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Architect

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? MBDA has e...

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Design Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?MBDA has en...

MBDA UK Ltd: PCB Technologies Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?MBDA has en...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor