Mid-Market restaurants sue San Francisco over homeless encampments, alleging negligence

San Francisco Chronicle, July 17, 2020

By Janelle Bitker


The coronavirus, combined with sprawling tent encampments in San Francisco’s Mid-Market, has created an untenable situation for the neighborhood’s restaurants that the city needs to fix, argues a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court.


Several Mid-Market residents and businesses, including Roman-style pizza restaurant Montesacro Pinseria and local Greek chain Souvla, have sued the city of San Francisco over negligence, alleging the city has facilitated an unsafe environment on the streets. It’s similar to a lawsuit that residents and business owners in the Tenderloin filed earlier this year, which the city ultimately settled in part by agreeing to remove 70% of the Tenderloin’s tents.


The new Mid-Market lawsuit describes the neighborhood as a home to tent encampments and criminal activity such as illegal drug deals, with trash, drug paraphernalia and human feces left to fester on the sidewalks.


This inaction isn’t new, the lawsuit goes on to allege, but it’s made far worse by the pandemic. Now, the homelessness crisis creates greater health concerns for Mid-Market’s residents and businesses, the suit claims.


“The City has created and perpetuated these conditions through its pattern and practice of tacitly treating mid-Market as a ‘containment zone’ that bears the brunt of San Francisco’s homelessness issues, and its failure to take action to address these issues,” the lawsuit states.


The plaintiff’s attorney, Sarah Hoffman, said her clients want to see officials clean up the streets, provide housing for the people living in tents in Mid-Market and enforce rules fairly across San Francisco.


“If this was happening in Pacific Heights, we’d be seeing a very different response from the city,” she said.


The City Attorney’s office and Montesacro Pinseria didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Souvla declined to comment.


Montesacro’s reopening during shelter-in-place started off strong, but the suit alleges that business dropped off due to the neighborhood’s worsening conditions during the pandemic. Tents block access to the restaurant, drugs are consumed by its doorstep, parked vehicles are often broken into and the restaurant’s garbage bins have been repeatedly stolen, the lawsuit claims.


“Both 911 calls and 311 requests are routinely ignored. If the conditions at mid-Market persist, Montesacro may be forced to close or relocate,” the lawsuit states.


Souvla operates a commissary kitchen for delivery orders on Jessie Street, and the kitchen has become a key hub during the coronavirus as more people rely on delivery. But like Montesacro, Souvla faces issues, the suit alleges: Homeless encampments block employees and delivery drivers from accessing the building, and employees have stated they’re too scared to come to work. If this persists, Souvla might be forced to close the location, the suit claims.


Multiple residents also reported facing verbal abuse, heeding warnings from Pit Stop attendants about “toxic” liquid leaking out from the restrooms and receiving no help despite filing 311 complaints, the lawsuit alleges. Since March, 311 complaints about encampments on just one block of Jessie Street were filed 49 times, according to public records.


“This isn’t some sort of NIMBY action,” Hoffman said. “We’re just hoping the city will do its job.”

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