Wiener's New Milk Plaza Restrictions
Two of my old friends and activist associates, artist Clinton Fein and fundraiser Gary Virginia, looked over District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener's misguided proposed legislation to solve public space disputes in the Castro and grew concerned about what is under consideration. I first reported on this legislation yesterday, generating a blog post from one of the SF Chronicle's many conservative writers, Debra Saunders, who scoffs at Wiener's move.
Here is what Clinton Fein had to say:
I’m not sure what problem currently exists that Supervisor Wiener’s ordinance seeks to address, other than a blatant fear that the plazas may be occupied.Clinton is wise to point out the dearth of political leadership in the Castro and to look at the flagpole wrestling in a free speech context. I expect Clinton will address this and other matters at the December 3 Occupy the Castro protest starting at noon at Milk Plaza.
It certainly fails to take into account any of the recent issues regarding use of the flagpole as a community resource or address the murkiness governing its administration – an agreement that purportedly exists between MUMC and DPW that neither has been able nor willing to reproduce or make available.
Given the actual ten-month controversy swirling around control of the flagpole and the lack of any transparent, consistent policy governing the ability of the community to utilize lowering the flag to draw attention to important issues, it seems like this ordinance is tone-deaf at best.
Who, other than the Castro Community Benefit District did the Supervisor work closely with to come up with this ordinance, what other “neighborhood stakeholders” were included, and how committed are they to First Amendment issues?
The Supervisor can’t claim to be unaware of the simmering flagpole control issues, which may appear petty and local on the surface, but speak to a much larger First Amendment issue in San Francisco.
This ordinance barely recognizes the plazas as bastions of freedom of expression, deserving of the highest First Amendment protection.
What we need is an ordinance designed to advance and protect freedom of expression and clarify to activists, celebrants, the general public, and anyone seeking to enjoy their rights to free expression, or to peaceably assemble how to best do so. And instructions for law enforcement that balance public safety with free speech. That, however, would have required leadership.
These cogent thoughts and questions that require direct answers are from Gary Virginia, who's lived, worked, rabble-roused, voted, and loved in the Castro since 1987:
I have read the proposed ordinance by Scott Wiener and I have many problems with it, not limited to the following:I'm counting on Gary to not only speak out at Occupy the Castro, but to also share his concerns with all members of the Board of Supervisors when the legislation is debated at the Land Use Committee.
1. What problems exist currently that can not be solved otherwise without creating more legislation, especially when it gives vague power/discretion to the Director of the Department of Public Works of when the plazas may be closed for general sitting and congregating?
2. I don't consider these two areas as just "public parks." They existed first and primarily as traffic thoroughfares and still do. I would bet that 99% of the people who walk through these "plazas" are trying to get from point A to point B with no other easy alternative to do so without endangering their lives by crossing through active car, bus, street car, cab, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. But they all will be subject to this ordinance as they pass through.
3. I am very concerned about the broad and vague language with the section on peddling. I have organized many rallies and fundraisers at Castro and Market Streets where money was exchanged for worthy gay and HIV community nonprofits. Girl Scouts have sold cookies there. There have also been rescue pet adoption efforts set up there. There is plenty of room for pedestrians to traverse the area and have tables or people there doing the aforementioned.
4. Regarding the wheeled equipment prohibition, I again don't like giving broad authority to whomever happens to be the Director of DPW as this position is often politically selected. There is a long-standing tradition of Tricycle Races on Memorial Day weekend which builds community, attracts visitors and consumers to the neighborhood? What happens when fees start getting assessed for these permits, if not already required?
5. I don't like the hours being restricted. Many people work past 9pm and come into or leave the neighborhood on their commute and would like to sit down to take a break or see the sights. What if an artist wants to set up a chair and easel before 7am in the plazas? Want to discuss the movie you just saw at the Castro that got out after 9pm? We need to enhance reasons for folks to hang out in the plazas.
I also feel these regulations are being set in place to be able to control any Occupy SF actions should they occur in the most relevant part of the Castro for such an action. We have already witnessed the violence and oppression of freedom of assembly and speech by police and politicians in New York City, Oakland, CA, and elsewhere. We don't need to give the government of San Francisco more power to do the same.
I oppose this entire ordinance. It is creating legislation and bureaucracy where no real problem exists that could not be remedied with common sense and laws already in place. The devil is in the details of how this ordinance could be used "by discretion" or in its vagueness.