Press Advisory—UC Law SF Response to San Francisco’s Tenderloin Neighborhood Safety Assessment and Plan for COVID-19: “Entirely Inadequate”

(San Francisco) May 8, 2020

On May 4, 2020, UC Law SF and five co-plaintiffs filed suit against the City and County of San Francisco in federal court, demanding that the City clear sidewalks in the Tenderloin and provide safe, sanitary sheltering alternatives for people now camping there. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, sidewalks have become overwhelmed by tent encampments, while open-air drug dealing is more brazen than ever and neighborhood residents are afraid to leave their homes.

On the same day the suit was filed, over seven weeks after the establishment of a local health emergency, the City released a preliminary plan for addressing conditions in the Tenderloin. The plan would institutionalize and encourage sidewalk encampments and facilitate the already rampant open-air drug dealing.

The plan seeks to provide services and resources to existing encampments on sidewalks in the Tenderloin rather than find locations for unhoused individuals away from residences and businesses. Provisions such as eliminating vehicular traffic on multiple streets to create room for pedestrians and cyclists suggest the plan intends to continue allowing sidewalks to be used as makeshift camps rather than to clear them for use by all residents, businesses, and visitors. Such measures would worsen public nuisances and continue to violate the rights of people whose disabilities make it especially unsafe or impossible for them to move through the neighborhood.

The solutions the plan recommends would never be suggested for San Francisco’s more affluent districts. The time has come to stop treating the Tenderloin as a containment zone. The City treats the men, women and children who live, work and go to school in the Tenderloin as second-class citizens in violation of the laws and Constitutions of the United States and California.

“I’ve read the plan in detail, and it’s entirely inadequate,” said UC Law SF Chancellor and Dean David Faigman. “The plan is just more talk.  We need action, not talk. We need the tents and the drug dealers removed and the unhoused moved to safe and temporary housing, such as large tents or other shelter, until a permanent solution is accomplished.”

Rhiannon Bailard, Executive Director of Operations for UC Law SF, said the “proposed plan appears to support the status quo, rather than serving as a detailed blueprint for protecting the housed and unhoused during the immediate health crisis or for the long-term sustainability of the Tenderloin neighborhood. Additionally, the City’s plan provides no schedule or dates certain by which to measure its success. Indeed, there is no mention whatsoever of how success should, or will, be measured.”

“We’ve always had a very good relationship with the City, and we did not name the Mayor in this suit,” Faigman said. “I don’t think it’s just the Mayor’s issue. It’s the City and County’s issue to resolve. The Mayor is the leader, and she’s been proactive. She was one of the first to declare an emergency over COVID-19, and she’s done very well in many respects.”

“What we are disappointed about is there appears to be no real political solution to what’s happening in the Tenderloin. We believe there needs to be a nonpolitical solution. We need the federal courts to help us find one.”

Read more from Dean Faigman in this San Francisco Chronicle op-ed here.