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Beautiful view of business center in downtown San Francisco at sunset. (Photo: f11photo/Shutterstock)

San Francisco and The Grants Pass Ruling: Where The City And Mayoral Candidates Stand

‘It takes a consistent and determined effort to ensure tents are not a part of our permanent landscape in San Francisco’

By Evan Symon, July 1, 2024 1:43 pm

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson. According to the ruling, local laws limiting encampments on public land does not amount to cruel and unusual punishment, allowing for local civil and criminal penalties.

For many cities, this helped validate current city encampment ban laws. This included Los Angeles, whose ban dates back to 2021, and San Diego, whose ban went into effect last year. However, in San Francisco, the tale is different. There is currently a lawsuit in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Coalition on Homelessness v. San Francisco, that is stopping encampment sweeps unless the city first offers them shelter. While the San Francisco lawsuit has more to do with destruction of homeless property and disabled homeless person’ rights, the suit also nonetheless touches on encampment sweeps and San Francisco encampment policies.

With the Grants Pass ruling, San Francisco is suddenly open to such encampment bans once again. However, as noted by San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu during the weekend, the ruling won’t change things overnight and will require time for the city to work on deeper encampment bans, especially with the Coalition lawsuit still in play until at least May of 2025 when it is expected to be heard in court.

“San Francisco has and will continue to take a compassionate, services-first approach to addressing our homelessness crisis,” said Chiu in a statement on Friday. “It will take time to analyze this decision and chart a path forward to change policies on the ground and ensure our litigation catches up with the Supreme Court’s decision today.”

Meanwhile, homelessness, as well as what to do with tents and encampments, has remained one of the top issues in the 2024 San Francisco Mayoral race. Polls have shown that the race is tight and will likely go down to the wire this November. According to the latest poll, former San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell, current Mayor London Breed, and former Tipping Point Community CEO David Lurie are all with only a few points of each other in polling. San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin and Supervisor Ahsha Safai, while behind the top three in polling, still nonetheless have blocks of support, with Peskin in particular close to cracking the top three.

San Francisco and the encampment lawsuit

Mayor of San Francisco London Breed (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

With homelessness and, in particular, homeless encampment bans in the city now being even more of a hot button issue, all five candidates weighed in on the subject during the weekend. At a press conference, Mayor Breed was first to speak on the issue. She noted that there is already a camping ban in place on the streets and that, even with the lawsuit, tents and other structures on sidewalks and other public areas have gone down by 37% since last year. Even more, the city tent count is now at a five year low, back down to pre-pandemic numbers. However, Breed also said that no new laws were needed to help clear encampments even more.

“Camping on the streets of San Francisco is already prohibited. This is not something that should be happening in general, and so as a result of this decision, we are able to enforce the law and to clear the encampments off the street,” said Breed. “We don’t need to introduce a new law to do anything about what we plan to do to clear these encampments.”

However, others were more hard-line. Lurie, speaking from outside the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a symbolic statement late on Friday, said that the city needs to rapidly create more emergency shelter beds. This way, no one would need to sleep on the streets, or be allowed to.

Levi Strauss heir Daniel Lurie (Photo: Daniel Lurie Twitter page)

“I would have cleared the encampments years ago,” said Lurie. “What City Hall insiders have been doing is pushing the problem from one block to another. And this is what we get. We get the same crisis on our streets. So there’s no more excuses. Now, it’s crystal clear. And if you don’t accept any of the options, people will face arrest. No one wants to arrest our way out of this problem. That is not the way to go about it. But it’s got to be a tool in the toolkit.”

Farrell was also clear in his support of removing tent encampments, but like Lurie, blamed Breed and the city for not going further. In addition, Farrell said that Breed’s numbers were “misleading” and that the Grants Pass ruling was not an end all to the city’s homeless tent problem.

“The City always had the authority to remove tent encampments from our streets, but Mayor Breed has consistently failed in her ability to do so,” explained Farrell. “Her latest tent count numbers were misleading and were directly rebuffed by people on the ground living with her failed leadership daily in the Tenderloin. While the ruling provides more clarity, it should not be viewed as a panacea. It takes a consistent and determined effort to ensure tents are not a part of our permanent landscape in San Francisco.”

Former San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell (Photo: sf.gov)

Peskin took a different approach to the Grants Pass ruling. While he noted that going after encampments was useful in some situations, especially if it is for police to more easily clear areas of fentanyl, he said that arresting the homeless was the most expensive solution. Instead, he said that a bigger focus on shelter beds was the way to go.

“I have consistently called on Mayor Breed to stop misspending hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for affordable housing and permanent supportive housing that we desperately need in a time of crisis,” added Peskin. “I will enforce the laws to control and regulate encampments, but we already have seen that attempting to arrest our way out of our homeless crisis is the most expensive and least effective alternative we have.”

Those familiar with the race said that what candidates want to do about homeless encampments post-Grants Pass could have candidates gain, or lose, a few points of support – a critical amount for them as shown by recent polls.

“It is big enough of an issue to sway people,” said political advisor Sharon Lee to the Globe on Monday. “Everyone in San Francisco has an opinion on this, of course. Lurie and Farrell are both backing the popular opinion, that more needs to be done with a combo of sweeps and shelter. Breed is saying that no new laws need to be introduced, and then Peskin and Safai going with the major push on shelter over encampment sweeps. And considering just how bad homelessness is in some areas, residents are going to influenced by where the candidates stand here.”

“It will probably only be a few points of difference at most as voters have other issues to consider. But if a resident has to deal with a homeless person sleeping outside their mailbox at the home or apartment or where they work on election day or about to mail in their ballot, it will make something of a difference.”

More on the Grants Pass ruling and what it means for San Francisco’s policies is to continue to come out this week.

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Evan Symon
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One thought on “San Francisco and The Grants Pass Ruling: Where The City And Mayoral Candidates Stand

  1. LA mayor Karen Bass seemed to push back against the decision! Why hasn’t it been embraced by all big city mayors? The answer is Money- they get to collect it in the form of contributions from the Homeless Industrial Complex, and distribute it to their cronies, who then squander it on salaries and costs to keep this scam going.

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