'Lives are in danger': Lawsuit argues SF needs to clean up the Tenderloin as coronavirus spreads

San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2020

By Bob Egelko


Residents and business owners in San Francisco’s reeling Tenderloin neighborhood, together with the UC Hastings School of Law, sued the city in federal court Monday, seeking to force it to clean the streets of crowded encampments and human litter, find housing for the homeless and stop brazen, open-air drug dealing. “San Francisco should be prohibited from abandoning a single neighborhood, in an apparent effort to spare other neighborhoods the burdens that confront the city,” the lawsuit said. Plaintiff Randy Hughes, 65, described steering his electric wheelchair from his home at the Cadillac Hotel on Ellis Street to work at a Goodwill store each morning, weaving around tents, needles and piles of human feces on the sidewalks. “I’d say it’s 10 times worse than it was before,” he said in a video statement for a news conference announcing the suit. The plaintiffs are not seeking financial damages, but instead a set of far-reaching court orders requiring San Francisco to clear the sidewalks of the Tenderloin, a 50-block neighborhood with about 20,000 residents.


The city should make any spare hotel rooms available to the homeless, find safer areas for campsites, provide clean drinking water and latrines, provide “immediate and effective enforcement against drug dealers,” and test residents for COVID-19, said UC Hastings Dean David Faigman. The number of tents and other sidewalk shelters in the Tenderloin rose from 173 on March 13 to 391 on May 2, according to a survey by the nonprofit group Urban Alchemy quoted by the plaintiffs. While Police Chief Bill Scott spoke of a citywide drop in crime last week, lawyers in the case said violent crimes in the Tenderloin were up 24% over the last year, compared with 4% citywide. Fallon Victoria, manager of the Pierre Hotel, a single-room-occupancy establishment on Jones Street and a plaintiff in the suit, said she often sees police “simply look away when people on the streets and sidewalks of the Tenderloin commit crimes.” In response, John Coté, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said San Francisco’s Emergency Operations Center had put together a detailed, block-by-block plan “to address the situation in the Tenderloin,” and was receiving community feedback. “It is unfortunate that UC Hastings chose to go to court rather than allow that community process to proceed and produce a final plan, which will be issued this week,” Coté said. But Deborah Mallgrave, a lawyer in the case, said Tenderloin residents and visitors need immediate court action “to walk on a sidewalk without feeling that their lives are in danger.” The suit accuses San Francisco of violating Tenderloin residents’ right to equal protection of the laws, of violating disability laws by failing to maintain a 3-foot clearance on sidewalks for wheelchair access, and of acting negligently in its duty to “control, maintain and keep safe and clean parks, schools, streets and public buildings.” Plaintiffs include the Tenderloin Merchants and Property Owners Association. UC Hastings is located at Hyde and McAllister streets. About 200 of its 930 students live in the Tenderloin, said Rhiannon Bailard, the school’s director of operations, who also lives in the neighborhood. As she was preparing her statement for Monday’s news conference, she said she saw a man stabbed with a machete and two pedestrians hit by a vehicle. Her job duties include campus safety, Bailard said, and, “I don’t know how to resume (those duties) with the Tenderloin in the state it is in.”

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