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‘A shitty Band-Aid’: Residents split over Capp Street sex work barricades

An "end" sign is attached to a barrier blocking a road in San Francisco.
Road barriers were set up on Capp Street in San Francisco by Monday, Feb. 13, 2023. | Felix Uribe Jr. for The Standard | Source: Felix Uribe Jr for The Standard

The first weekend of new barricades on a San Francisco street, meant to deter alleged rampant sex work, has divided local opinions.

The city installed the Capp Street barricades Friday in response to noise, crime and traffic safety complaints, believed to be associated with sex work in the area.

The barricades are a temporary measure from local supervisor Hillary Ronen. Ronen plans to introduce a resolution Tuesday calling on the state to decriminalize sex work.

One Capp Street resident who asked to remain anonymous said the barricades are essentially “an inhumane fencing off of people.”

“It’s fucked up,” the resident said. “I know she’s talking about making a sanctioned red-light district, but this feels like a really shitty Band-Aid.”

A traffic sign sits on an orange delineator on a San Francisco street on a sunny day with hills in the background.
A sign set up on Capp Street on Monday discourages "thru traffic." | Felix Uribe Jr. for The Standard

Other Capp Street residents who spoke to The Standard said they had noticed positive changes since the barricades went up.

“It was crowded, like a red-light district,” said Capp Street resident Kevin Nguyen. “We sleep better now with less cars passing by.”

Nguyen bought his home in June and said he would see used condoms outside his house in the morning.

“I’d have to clean it up,” Nguyen said.

An Asian man in a Calvin Klein hoodie, jeans and blue nitrile gloves stands on a driveway in front of a green and white garage door.
Kevin Nguyen stands outside his Capp Street home. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Anasticio Muñoz, a 30-year resident of Capp Street, said, “It used to be cars going back and forth, going fast, ignoring the signs. It’s nicer now.”

Pat Wynne bought her Capp Street home in 1990 and sympathizes with the sex workers, but their presence in the street makes her feel uncomfortable.

“I wish for their safety; I wish them legality. I just wish they weren’t here,” Wynne said.

An older woman sits in a vintage chair with an abstract artwork in the background.
Pat Wynne sits in her Capp Street home on Feb. 13, 2022. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

The effectiveness of the barricades has been brought into question, as they are quite easily moved around.

Ronen’s aide, Santiago Lerma, said that since the barricades were installed, sex workers have gone to South Van Ness Avenue and along 18th Street, but said there are far fewer than before.

“We certainly didn’t think [barricades] would inspire them to retire or go away,” Lerma said.

Barriers block a road in San Francisco near Victorian buildings and a white van.
A section of the Capp Street road barriers were moved to allow cars through on Monday. | Felix Uribe Jr. for The Standard

Ronen said she has had positive feedback from residents about the barriers, including "dozens of emails" from Capp Street residents telling her the barricades have given them the first good nights of sleep they have had in months.

Heavy water-filled barricades have been ordered, and it will be roughly a week before they go into place, Ronen said. In the meantime it’s going to be a battle of replacing or repairing barricades that are moved or vandalized.

“My office is working on the short-term and the long-term solutions,” Ronen said.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at garrett@sfstandard.com