S.F. Planner: To Stop Poverty Pimping, TL Residents Must Fight the Law

Peter Jamison
Christine Haw of the San Francisco Planning Department
A San Francisco Planning Department official delivered a less-than-inspiring message last night at a meeting of Tenderloin residents worried that their neighborhood is being overrun with social-service providers: Deal with it. Under current zoning laws, many sections of the Tenderloin are extraordinarily open to incoming businesses and nonprofits of all varieties, including charitable outlets that attract some of the city's most desperate residents.

But that doesn't mean the law has to stay that way. Christine Haw, the planning department's director of code enforcement, told a group of about a dozen local activists that the neighborhood could seek to initiate legislation requiring more extensive permitting requirements -- known as "conditional use" hearings -- for social-service providers, or even an outright prohibition of such organizations in the future.

"If you have legislation to require conditional use, that would mean you're saying any additional service providers would have to have a public review and public hearing before the planning commission," Haw said. "That's up to the community to initiate if you choose to do so."

Some say such a process could help prevent future scenarios akin to a recent episode that unfolded on Turk Street, where nuns from a Chicago-based religious order, Fraternite Notre Dame, opened up a soup kitchen that took the neighborhood by surprise. As we reported earlier this month, the soup kitchen's appearance stirred dormant resentments among community organizers toward charitable outlets they say don't take account of their clients' effects on the neighborhood's families and businesses. As a result, the Community Leadership Alliance, an activist group involved in a wide range of Tenderloin issues, called last night's meeting in the neighborhood police station's community room.

Peter Jamison
Tenderloin activists at last night's neighborhood meeting

At lunch time on any given day in the Tenderloin, thousands of people -- among them the homeless, drug addicts, and drug dealers looking to peddle their wares to a captive crowd -- line up at soup kitchens within an area of a few square blocks. "We feel that we're overwhelmed with these programs," said Edward Evans, a Tenderloin resident who advocates on behalf of the disabled. "They should be scattered among the city, because they are a magnet to problems we have here in the neighborhood."

Apparently, it's going to take some bureaucratic legwork to make these magnets go away.

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