Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Pubdate: Thu, 18 Jun 1998
Author: Ken Garcia


City Hall ignores repeated complaints about crime

On Haight Street, as in space, no one can hear you scream.

How else to explain the indifference and inactivity on the part of the
mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the district attorney and a host of other
city officials to the obvious problems affecting one of San Francisco's
fabled streets?

For years now, neighborhood residents and merchants have been pleading with
the powers that be to address the mounting problems in the Haight --
concerns that seem to have registered only last week after an alleged hate
crime attack against two black couples by a dozen white youths.

But the attack was just a high-profile and possibly mischaracterized
example of the daily plight faced by people in the neighborhood, folks who
have frankly grown weary of complaining about the scores of young runaways
and street people who openly deal drugs, drink, trash the neighborhood and
maintain a threatening presence on the street.

``In the 20 years I've been here, Haight Street has never looked worse,''
said John Hooper, a member of the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association.
``It has gone from exciting and cutting-edge to ominous and dangerous. And
we are not getting what we need from the city. We are getting no

An extended walk down Haight Street would be enough to raise the eyebrows
of any concerned citizen, except it seems, the elected ostriches down at
City Hall. It appears that only they could be oblivious to the public
urinating, aggressive panhandling and vandalism that occurs in broad
daylight -- a Third World scene that gets rougher after dark.

Even the most compassionate denizens of the area are complaining about the
state of the Haight. Brian Gaines, a member of the city's Human Services
Commission who owns the Ben & Jerry's ice cream store at Haight and
Ashbury, said the neighborhood has steadily gotten out of hand.

``It's clear that no matter how much we try to be nice to these kids that
they don't have a lot of respect for people who live and work in the
neighborhood,'' he said. ``We have to paint our building two to three times
a week and we've had to replace several sets of windows. It's gotten to the
point where neighborhood people are afraid to walk on the street, and that
doesn't bode well for the businesses here.''

Residents point to the proliferation of social service agencies in the
Haight as one of the reasons so many wayward youths flock to the area. The
Haight has more than 65 medical, counseling, drug treatment, outreach and
rehabilitation centers -- which many residential and commercial
organizations say is more than one neighborhood can absorb.

Neighborhood groups have joined forces to block a plan by the Haight
Ashbury Free Medical Clinic to expand its services to the old Christian
Science church across from Buena Vista Park, and merchants have begun
pressuring the Planning Department to investigate the proliferation of
treatment programs illegally run out of residential buildings.

But the open drug dealing has gotten so bad that even civil libertarian
groups like the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council have asked police to
step up their presence.

Yet more police patrols haven't proved a deterrent to the nomadic tribes
that drift around the street. Privately, police officials say all the
citations they issue for drinking, drug dealing and other offenses somehow
``disappear'' by the time they reach the Municipal Court system. One
officer told me it was a ``pretty egregious example'' of ticket fixing --
and blamed it on the clout of so-called homeless ``advocates'' down at City

But as residents in the Haight know, the problems are not about
homelessness. They're about crime.

``All I know is that all the citations we issue don't mean much to the kids
we're issuing them to,'' said Captain John Newlin of Park Police Station.
``And if these people believe they're not going to be found responsible for
their actions, why should they change their behavior?''

Even the alleged hate crime attack has raised questions about the stance of
some city officials. Word on the street -- and among some police
investigators -- is that the assault was really a retaliation against a
known drug dealer who had a history of ripping off gutter punks in the

Yet because the alleged assailant, Charles McDavid, yelled racial slurs and
the assault involved whites against blacks, District Attorney Terence
Hallinan and Police Chief Fred Lau have maintained that the incident was a
hate crime -- and prosecutors filed six hate crime penalty enhancement
charges along with the other felony assault charges.

Beyond the one publicized case, though, the only response to the
neighborhood's demise from the folks at Van Ness Avenue has been to call
for more meetings. That's the kind of leadership we've come to expect in
San Francisco, and why the Haight is a sorry mess today.

``I'm fed up with the city not doing anything about it, with not enforcing
its own laws,'' said Ruth Dorsey, a Haight resident for 25 years. ``We have
a small percentage of people ruining the quality of life in this
neighborhood, and it's gotten so bad that I don't even like to walk the
streets at night. I consider myself a tolerant person, but now I'm getting

1998 San Francisco Chronicle Page A23

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Checked-by: (Joel W. Johnson)