San Francisco Passes Weiner Proposal

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Well, by the narrowest of margins (6-5), San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted on November 20 to pass Supervisor Scott Weiner's controversial ordinance requiring people to wear pants in public. Under the newly added Police Code Section 154:

A person may not expose his or her genitals, perineum, or anal region on any public street, sidewalk, street median, parklet, or plaza, or in any transit vehicle, station, platform, or stop of any government operated transit system in the City and County of San Francisco.

"Pants" are not strictly required, of course—anything that sufficiently conceals the aforementioned regions should suffice—but I will frequently use "pants" as shorthand for this concept. No discrimination is intended.

Jack_portrait_webIn most places, a pants requirement would not be all that controversial, but San Francisco has a long tradition of what we would call "freedom" though others might call it "please put on some pants." The vast majority of pantless San Franciscans are found in the Castro district, but there is at least one nude beach somewhere around here and it is also not too uncommon for people to opt out of pants during certain festivals or events like the Bay to Breakers race. (Did I think it was comical at the time to see some astoundingly drunk guy wearing only shoes and a Jack-in-the-Box head stagger along for a while and then collapse into the grass? Yes. Do I now wish I could un-see that? Very much so.) This sort of thing is widely tolerated, but opponents say it has been getting out of hand, at least in the Castro:

Wiener, the sponsor of the proposal, admits he was reluctant to take the step of banning public nudity, but that the issue has evolved beyond the presence of a few naked guys in the Castro and is a growing problem that generates more complaints from his constituents than homelessness or Muni.

"It's no longer a quirky part of San Francisco, it's seven days a week," said Wiener, who represents the Castro. "Many people in the neighborhoods are over it and want to take action."

The first step down this slippery slope to fascism was to expand an existing ordinance to punish pantless restaurant patrons who lacked "clothing or other separate material as a barrier" between said patron and the public seating. Note that it was then considered too controversial to actually require pants in a restaurant; pants were acceptable, but a towel or "other separate material" would also suffice. But this did not address the problem of street nudity, which eventually got Weiner's attention.

The measure of course drew a number of protests at City Hall, at which people were predictably naked. At the Board of Supervisors meeting on Nov. 20, "many in the pro-nudity camp stayed clothed during the vote" but at least five people stripped when the measure passed. They were escorted out but no arrests were made. "As he pulled his pants up, a nudist named Stardust said the legislation sent the wrong message," namely that people should be ashamed to be naked. I agree that's a bad message but I also don't think pants at a board meeting (let alone a restaurant) is too much to ask for.

Of course there are plenty of exceptions to the ordinance, which really is pretty narrow. It only applies to someone on public property, for one thing, and expressly leaves the restaurant-nudity rule intact. It also does not apply to anyone under the age of five (you're going to arrest a naked five-year-old? Really?) or to anyone participating in an authorized "parade, fair, or festival." Yes, it is now illegal to be fully nude in San Francisco unless you are in a parade. That preserves the nature of certain traditional events like the Gay Pride Parade and Folsom Street Fair ("traditional" in SF terms, anyway), but is a pretty remarkable result.

Note also the extremely narrow definition of the prohibited zones, in particular the exemption of breasts and buttocks. (Maybe they just wanted to avoid the buttock-definition problems with which other municipalities have struggled.) This means thongs, plumbers' pants and buttless leather chaps remain A-OK in San Francisco.

"This legislation is really about genitals," said Weiner.

It is not clear whether the law will ultimately take effect. A lawsuit is already pending, and the ordinance still has to pass a second reading and also get the mayor's signature. He supports the measure, so unless somebody switches their vote or a judge enjoins it, it would take effect on February 1, 2013. My guess is that at least in some parts of town, pants may be pretty scarce until then.