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Politics & Policy

Supervisors see red on sex work, neighborhood blight

Capp Street barricades | Courtesy image

This week supervisors meet on Valentine’s Day, facing an agenda with at least one item appropriate for the day and another—well, perhaps only ironically so. 

Along with a visit from Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, the board will likely hear the introduction of a resolution urging the decriminalization of sex work. Mayor Breed will also drop in to discuss quality-of-life issues. 

Keeping Sex in a Box

Supervisor Hillary Ronen (center) is expected to introduce a resolution calling on the state to decriminalize prostitution. I Camille Cohen/The Standard

Board watchers are expecting District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen to introduce a resolution calling on the state to decriminalize prostitution once and for all during Tuesday’s roll call. Hints at such a resolution have kicked up a dust storm of national reporting in recent days. 

The resolution is meant to be a call for solutions to deal with a renewed flare-up of street sex work and associated problems on Capp Street. Barricades have been installed on the street to deter cruising johns, but they don’t seem to be working

 Another possible solution could bring even more controversy.

According to reporting in the San Francisco Chronicle, some Mission residents have suggested that the city set up a sanctioned zone for street sex work in a commercial district somewhere in the city, to shift the nuisance away from Capp Street. 

The proposal has no details, but board observers could look elsewhere for examples of red-light districts.  Zurich, for example, established a zone for street sex work after it was approved by voters in 2013

The “Sex Boxes,” which also accommodate bicyclists but not pedestrians, have been hailed as a success by Zurich city government. But critics say they have been a boon for traffickers and have made it more difficult to offer support and services for sex workers.

Sex work has been legal in Switzerland since 1942. A 2008 ballot measure calling for decriminalization in San Francisco was defeated with about 59% of the vote. 

National press have conflated reporting of Ronen’s resolution, which reportedly addresses decriminalization only, with the proposal by some residents to create a red-light district. 

When USA Today asked Assemblymember Matt Haney if he would support a red-light district proposal, he responded with the polite equivalent of telling the reporter to go pound sand. 

Breed, Chan Discuss ‘Neighborhood Blight’

Supervisor Connie Chan speaks on McAllister Street in front of San Francisco Superior Courthouse before the start of Lacy V. CCSF Hearing on July 28, 2022, in San Francisco. | Ekevara Kitpowsong | Source: Ekevara Kitpowsong

Tuesday’s meeting also features a visit from Mayor London Breed as part of regular policy discussions with the board. This time, she’ll be fielding a question from District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, with “neighborhood blight” listed as the topic. 

Chan, like Breed, is up for reelection in 2024. She’s had to field increasing concerns in her district on crime and street conditions, which helped shape the outcome of last year’s elections.

Chan is hosting a town hall on Wednesday with City Attorney David Chiu to showcase his agency’s response to public nuisances, so expect her exchange with Breed to be a preview of that event.

Much Love for Pelosi

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joins Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and other officials to celebrate a $400 million federal grant to upgrade and retrofit the Golden Gate Bridge on Jan. 23, 2023. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

The speaker emerita is expected to make an appearance on Tuesday to receive a commendation from the board for her long service for San Francisco in Congress. 

The resolution, principally sponsored by District 2 member Catherine Stefani, had been continued twice in order to accommodate Pelosi’s schedule—after all, she’s had one hell of a year, with a dramatic election season, a chaotic succession and an attack on her husband that left him severely injured.