Getting to the Bottom of Things in San Francisco

Things may have finally bottomed out in the Castro District of San Francisco where there is a move afoot to place limits on public nudity.

Currently, there are few constraints on those who would like to roam nude in San Francisco, particularly in the City’s Castro District.  A person, for example, can wander around nude, lounge on a park bench without clothes, or even dine in a restaurant sans stitching.  This libertine atmosphere, however, may be coming to an end.

At least one member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is tired of turning the other cheek when it comes to public nudity and has proposed an ordinance mandating that nudists take sanitary measures when lounging au naturel in public.  This measure, proposed by San Francisco Supervisor Scott Weiner, does not attempt to criminalize nudity.  It would, however, require patrons of eating establishments to be clothed, and it would also mandate those in the buff to use a buffer—clothes, a towel, or even a newspaper—when making contact with public seating outside of eating establishments.

Weiner is quick to point out that he is not tackling the “broader issue of public nudity,” noting that this is simply a matter of hygiene and public health.  “When you have your orifices exposed in an eating establishment,” he added, “a lot of people don’t like it.”

Interestingly, the ordinance, if passed, could become known as the Weiner Measure.

Whatever the name, the ordinance is getting some support from business owners, who are concerned that excessive nudity might frighten away customers and affect their bottom line. Stephen Adams, President of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro, put things in perspective when he told the Los Angeles Times, “You always see signs on the door, ‘Shoes and shirt required.’ You’d think [customers] would have to have pants too.”

But not everyone is on board with the proposed policy.  George Davis, who campaigned—in the nude—for Mayor of San Francisco in 2007, argues that a “simple cold” poses a greater health threat than sitting in a seat formerly occupied by a nudist.  Moreover, Davis takes philosophical umbrage with this move, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that “it isn’t fair” for people “to force their conservative views on me.”

Hanging Out Nude in San Francisco (Photo by Michael Macor, The Chronicle

Davis’s views reflect the deep-seated, anything-goes culture of San Francisco, where the state Supreme Court ruled in the early 1970s that “nude is not lewd.”  According to the California, ahem, Penal Code, nudity is not, by itself, a crime.  But being nude and aroused is a crime. Moreover, nudity, depending on the circumstances, may be considered a “public nuisance,” which is also a criminal offense.

This being San Francisco, however, breaking the law and going to jail are separate issues.  In the City by the Bay, arrests for being a “public nuisance” must be initiated by citizens who are then responsible for detaining the suspect or physically taking the person to the authorities. Such a reaction would not only subject the arresting citizen to legal liabilities, it would also pose civil rights issues—not to mention the potential confusion it might add to the term “man-handle.”

These difficulties, however, are largely bypassed in Weiner’s ordinance.  Officers who catch nudists without a buffer between their skin and public seating would be given a citation costing a first-time offender $100.  Additional offenses within a 12-month period could result in stiffer penalties.

Of course, the accused could always contest the ticket in court, in which case the whole matter might end in a headline that reads: “Hung Jury Likely in Nudity Case.”

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