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Transported: Looking at Prop L (Sit/Lie Ordinance) and Prop G (Muni Reform)

Welcome to "Transported", our new weekly series about getting places in San Francisco, whether you take the bus or the BART, bike or drive. Come here to find the skinny on secret parking spots, the new bike lanes and how to get across town on Muni without losing your mind.

Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown are duking it out on TV. Supervisors are fiercely campaigning and people are frenetically plastering windows with "yes" and "no" posters.  Here are two ballot measures that will affect how you get around town (or in the case of the Sit/Lie Ordinance, don't). Get to know them.

1. Prop L: Sit/Lie Ordinance

What is it? A proposition to ban sitting, lying on public sidewalks between 7 am and 11 pm.

For it: People argue that Prop L would make it illegal for even children to set up a lemonade stand, which is an overstatement. Prop. L makes exceptions for medical emergencies, individuals using disability devices, lawful sidewalk businesses, authorized parades, protests or festivals, children in strollers, Pavement to Parks projects, and others. This law doesn't aim to target all homeless people, it aims to target behavior that threatens businesses and residents, like prolonged loitering, obstruction of doorways and sidewalks, and aggressive behavior towards pedestrians.

According to the SF Chronicle, proponents point to similar laws in both Seattle and Palo Alto, where police issue only a handful of sit/lie citations (compared to the thousands of citations SF gives to aggressive panhandlers) each year. Warnings give first-time offenders the option to move along and avoid the fine of $50-100 and/or community service, says Smartvoter.org. C.W. Nevius of the SF Chronicle points out that laws are enforced selectively all the time, making it extremely unlikely that police will kick law-abiding citizens off the pavement for things like enjoying the sun outside their houses.

Against it: Opponents to Prop. L believe it does not address the problematic behaviors the ordinance purports to solve, because it treats all homeless people the same. Most homeless comply with residents' or store owners' direct complaints without the law getting involved.

A thought-provoking opinion piece on Baycitizen.org by Praveen Madan, a resident and business owner in the Haight, points out that "by it’s very definition, the sit/lie law will require police officers to discriminate among the population based on their appearances. Opponents have raised concerns about the potential abuse of police power since the law proposes to grant broad discretionary power to the police regarding enforcement." Prop. L makes some exceptions, but fails to include that of day laborers, street performers, or retail workers on their legally-mandated work breaks. San Francisco tried to pass a similar sit/lie law in 1968, but repealed it in 1979 after getting sued for violating Constitutional rights like the 1st, 8th and 14th amendments.

Opponents argue that if Prop. L passes, police attention will be taken away from dealing with real crime and towards being the public's street sweepers. In addition, opponents believe that locking violators up will only turn them into hardened criminals, making it less likely they'll find jobs to get off the streets and giving them less trust in the system than that already have.

Other things to know: Proponents of Prop. L also want people to vote NO on Prop M, a ballot measure that would require the Police Commission to boost community policing and foot patrols for all police stations, focusing on high crime areas and encouraging citizens to help combat crime. Smartvoter.org states that Prop. M would demand dedicated Muni patrols, continuous community input, and guidelines for foot patrol officers. Proponents of Prop. L oppose Prop. M this because it is a Prop. L killer. As you guessed, opponents of Prop. L are voting YES on Prop. M.

2. Prop. G: Muni Reform

What is it? A proposition requiring Muni operators to negotiate their wages and benefits through collective bargaining like every other union in the city.

For it: According to Smartvoter.org, Muni operators are some of the highest-paid transit workers in the nation, making $27.92 per hour with a multi-million dollar benefit trust fund underneath. Proponents argue that without Prop. G, there is a major inequity between union wages in the city. Muni is also one of the most embattled public transportation organizations in the nation, and removing salaries would give officials more leverage to enact the changes needed to make it better. This can be done by using Muni's limited resources to make service for riders better, rather than automatic, annual raises for drivers. As it stands, Muni drivers are allowed to miss work without notice, contributing to unreliable transit service. Prop. G will reform the way the SFMTA governs the Muni system.

Against it: Opponents like the SF Bay Guardian believe that blaming Muni's problems on its drivers is not the way to reform. Prop. G, they say, does nothing to address the bureaucracy of the agency, which is Muni's real problem, nor will it make service more frequent, buses cleaner nor more safe. Drivers have had to stand by while the city cuts transit funds as it routinely raises Muni executives' salaries. They contend that the system used now to determine Muni wages has been in place for 40 years and is guided by principle and backed by voters. Wage arbitrators would have to decide if a proposed contract from Muni would negatively affect service, making labor issues at risk to cause major disputes and even driver strikes.


Photo via lilylilylily on Flickr.com