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New concrete barriers to deter Capp Street sex work stir additional controversy

Mission District residents, supervisor spar with firefighters over Capp St. barriers
Mission District residents, supervisor spar with firefighters over Capp St. barriers 02:57

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco firefighters union is raising  red flags about those new concrete barriers put up to deter sex work on Capp Street.

People who live on the block say they regularly witness prostitution late at night and, they say, sex work has increased -- particularly this year.

After complaints from residents, these concrete barriers went up to replace the metal or wood versions people either removed or drove through.

"They still walk around the area, sometimes they sit there you know, hang around. It's just -- it's not the remedy," said one resident who did not want to be identified. "It's just the cars don't get through but, at the same time, it's a problem for the fire department in case the building here has an emergency like a fire."

He said he also manages an apartment complex on Capp Street and he shares firefighters' concerns.

"Selfish decisions that put others at risk can have dire consequences," the firefighter union posted to Twitter, adding: "If you were trapped in a building, how long would you like to wait?"

They also said firefighters recently responded to a large fire on nearby 20th Street. There was another one on the 300 block of Capp.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen who requested the barriers, believes the solution is legalization of sex work.

Her office released a statement earlier this month calling for a move towards "decriminalization and ultimately legalization and regulation of sex work."

"Really, the main goal here is to get the sex workers off residential streets and the johns and the pimps off residential streets but also provide a safe place for people to conduct business," said Santiago Lerma, a legislative aide for supervisor Ronen.

Ronen's office said on Tuesday there will be a meeting with SFFD, SFPD, MTA and the mayor's office to work out a plan.

The supervisor's office added: "The neighbors and their children have had the first full night sleep in [a] month due to the barriers. The area was free from violence for the first time in months. The barriers have worked short term. Now all city departments need to come together to create a long term plan for neighborhood safety."

ALSO READ: 'It seems to go in cycles;' Prostitution crackdown on San Francisco's Capp St.

Street barriers not seen as solution to Mission District soliciting complaints 05:01

KPIX spoke with a sex worker who said their voices should be included in the debate

Maxine Doogan has been a sex worker in the Bay Area for over 30 years and says she plans to continue to be a sex worker for the next 30.

"I don't think too much about what people think. I don't really care what they think. I can't be bothered with what they think," said Doogan, who also works as an activist.

What Doogan does think about is how to make her occupation safer. She's been arrested for prostitution three times over her career and is tired of it.

"You know, when you're arrested, you know you're taken out of your job. You're held in jail, you know? You lose money and that means your kids aren't going to have what they need," she said. 

As for legalization, Doogan doesn't support the concept without some input from sex workers.

"You know the prostitute nation has been working illegally for a hundred years. You know, we're not going to be following any regulation or legalization scheme that is crafted without us," she said.

Maxine says Supervisor Ronen's office did not consult with her or any sex workers she knows. She says she doesn't want legalization; she just wants decriminalization.

"Decriminalization means that you're removing the criminal penalties from us to be able to negotiation for our own labor and our own safe work conditions and legalization means that you're going to regulate our business," Doogan said. 

She says all she wants is to be able to do her job safely and without the fear of arrest and believes this latest push for legalization is more about trying to control her than to help her.

"Maybe you should wear our high heels for a while and see what that's like, see how that works out for you," Doogan said.

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