Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, May 2, 2022


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C.A. Affirms Denial of 50-Block Ban on Drug Dealers

Says Wide-Ranging Stay-Away Order Might Be Valid Under Some Circumstances


By a MetNews Staff Writer



This 2011 file photo shows a view looking up Taylor Street of the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco.


The First District Court of Appeal yesterday affirmed an order denying a preliminary injunction sought by the San Francisco city attorney barring alleged street drug peddlers from a 50-block area in the heart of the downtown area known as the Tenderloin, agreeing with the trial court that the relief sought was too broad, but declaring that such a sweeping relief could be valid where the circumstances warranted.

“Unlike the trial court, we are not prepared to hold that a stay-away order could never be a potential remedy for a public nuisance or unfair business practice in an appropriate case,” Justice Douglas P. Miller of Div. Two wrote. “However, the City has failed to show error in the trial court’s finding that the proposed stay-away orders are insufficiently tailored to pass constitutional muster based on the evidentiary record before it.”

The proposed “Tenderloin Drug Abatement Area,” covering 221 acres, is defined as “Ninth Street from Mission Street to Market Street, north on Larkin Street to Turk Street, west on Turk to Van Ness Avenue, north to Geary Street, east to Powell Street, south to Market, southwest to Fifth Street, south on Fifth to Mission, and Mission to Ninth.” The area—which encompasses UC Hastings College of Law and portions of the civic center—has the highest crime rate in San Francisco.

City’s Appeal

The decision came in response to an appeal by City Attorney David Chiu of San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan P. Schulman’s denial of the order that sought in separate actions against four alleged drug dealers, However, Miller noted that similar civil complaints—for nuisance and under the Unfair Competition Law— were filed in 2020 “against 24 other individuals whose cases are not before us.”

Miller declared:

“Here, the trial court recognized injunctive relief is available under the public nuisance law and the UCL and, for example, ‘[t]here is no question that a court may enjoin the illegal sale of drugs.’ But the court correctly observed the particular injunctive relief the City requested is unprecedented under California law. The parties have not cited, and we have not found, any case in California upholding the use of a neighborhood-wide exclusion zone as injunctive relief to abate a public nuisance or address an unfair business practice.”

No Categorical Prohibition

The jurist went on to say, however:

“Still, the fact that a remedy has not been ordered before does not mean it is not allowed. While it is true that the City has not definitively established that stay-away orders are statutorily authorized, defendants have not convinced us stay-away orders are necessarily prohibited either. Thus, we cannot affirm the trial court’s order on the ground the public nuisance and UCL statutes categorically prohibit stay-away orders.”

He pointed out:

“Although the City contends these defendants have no reason to ever even be in the 50-square-block Tenderloin neighborhood except to sell drugs there was evidence that many community resources and government agencies are located in the Tenderloin, and the trial court certainly was not required to discredit defendants’ statements that they were interested in taking advantage of the employment, treatment, housing, and health services available in the 50-square-block neighborhood.”

Judge’s Finding

Schulman found, Miller noted, “based on the evidence presented, that the City’s proposed injunctions are not sufficiently narrowly tailored to address the harm at issue to pass constitutional muster.” The city, he concluded, had failed to show that the finding was not supported by substantial evidence.

“We are mindful of, and sympathetic to, the challenges faced by the City in addressing the issues of illegal drug sales, drug use, and the drug-related health crisis and its effects on the people who live and work in the neighborhood,” Miller wrote. “That said, we hold—and it is all we hold—that the City has not shown the trial court erred in denying the City’s requested interim relief against these four defendants.”

The origin of the name “Tenderloin” is uncertain. One version is that a police officer who had a beat in the area commented that he could afford tenderloin steak because of the bribes he received.

The case is People v. Padilla-Martel, A162872.


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