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Terrified residents of San Francisco's Tenderloin district sue for streets free of drugs, tents

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Two hotels and several residents of San Francisco's troubled Tenderloin district sued the city on Thursday, alleging it is using the neighborhood as a containment zone for rampant illegal drug use and other vices, making residents terrified to leave their homes and businesses unable to recruit staff.

Plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages, according to the complaint filed in federal court. Instead, they want officials to clear sidewalks of illegal drug dealers and fentanyl users, violent behavior and tent encampments and to treat the Tenderloin as it would any other neighborhood where crime is not tolerated.

They say city officials have allowed such behavior to flourish in the area — and not spill into other neighborhoods — by refusing to keep sidewalks clear for people using walkers or wheelchairs and failing to ban sidewalk vending, among other acts of omission.

“They demand an end to the rampant illegal street vending, and from the squalor and misery that exists throughout their neighborhood because the city has decided that people in the throes of addiction can live and die on the Tenderloin’s streets,” said Matt Davis, one of the attorneys, in a prepared statement.

The Tenderloin has long troubled city leaders, including Mayor London Breed, who declared an emergency in the district and twice vowed crackdowns on drugs. She is in a tough reelection contest in November, when she faces three serious challengers who say her administration has failed to address homelessness, encampments or the open-air drug market.

Breed's office said the recently approved Proposition E, which she put on the ballot, will bring more officers and resources to the neighborhood, including surveillance cameras.

“We have made improvements in the neighborhood, but the mayor understands the frustrations of residents and businesses in the Tenderloin and will continue her efforts to make the neighborhood safer and cleaner,” the statement read.

Her office cited a court injunction from a 2022 lawsuit filed by homeless people and their advocates against the city that Breed and other officials say limits their ability to dismantle encampments.

The judge in that case ordered city officials to stop forcing homeless people from public camping sites unless they have been offered appropriate shelter indoors. The issue is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

There are five anonymous plaintiffs in Thursday's lawsuit along with entities that operate the Phoenix Hotel and the Best Western Road Coach Inn.

They include Jane Roe, a married housekeeper with two young children who doesn't make enough money to move. Drug dealers block the entrance to her building and she often sees "users openly injecting or smoking narcotics" and people on the ground “who appear unconscious or dead,” the complaint states. Her children can never be outside without a parent, she alleges.

Susan Roe is elderly and uses a walker, but shopping carts and broken down bicycles block the sidewalk, forcing her to step out into the busy street, according to the complaint. She also has to navigate around “excrement, used syringes, vomit and garbage.”

Operators of the Phoenix Hotel said a hotel employee was struck in the head when they asked a trespasser to leave the parking lot and its restaurant has been unable to recruit a qualified chef because of street conditions.

The same lawyers on Thursday also filed a new motion on behalf of College of the Law, San Francisco, demanding that city officials reduce the number of tents in the Tenderloin, as they had pledged to do to settle a lawsuit over street conditions filed by the school in May 2020. The city initially showed “significant success,” the motion states, but has since lost ground.