San Francisco considers cleaning up prostitution by making brothels legal

November 28, 1993|By New York Times News Service

SAN FRANCISCO -- Responding to complaints from merchants and residents, city officials are considering whether to establish city-run brothels that would rent rooms to prostitutes, check their health and collect taxes on their earnings.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has created a 20-member group that includes three former prostitutes to consider legalizing prostitution and other steps that might help neighborhoods where men and women sell sex on street corners.

The supervisor who proposed the group, Terence Hallinan, said itwould be looking to other places that have legalized prostitution, among them a county in Nevada and some foreign cities.

"This is a business that can't advertise, so a certain neighborhood gets to be known as a place where prostitutes hang out," said Mr. Hallinan, whose family owns buildings in a neighborhood where prostitution is prevalent. "Pimps come into

the neighborhood and pick out a bus stop with a phone and drop women off," he said.

Over the years, San Francisco officials and police have either looked the other way as prostitution flourished in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin, Polk Street and the Mission or have cited prostitutes and let them go.

A year ago, the police began sweeps, arresting prostitutes for soliciting sex. But the prostitutes usually were returned to the streets within days because of jail overcrowding.

Robert B. Garcia, who runs a graphic-design business near an area of massage parlors, sex clubs and escort services, said that "for all intents and purposes, prostitution is already legal."

He said he became concerned when prostitutes started to come into his neighborhood, Nob Hill, where they felt safer, and with them came drugs and violence. Residents began to move away, said. He helped form Save Our Streets, a coalition of business owners and residents who lobbied City Hall to come up with a better solution than arresting prostitutes.

"Decriminalizing prostitution means they will be left alone, which we don't want," he said. "But if we legalize it, we will get an assurance that prostitutes will be kept off the streets."

Despite support from businesses, the proposition faces major hurdles. Mayor Frank M. Jordan, a former police chief, has said he is against the idea of city-run bordellos.

In addition, the California Legislature would have to repeal state laws that prohibit the selling of sex or give San Francisco an exemption from the laws, Mr. Hallinan said. When the group finishes its study next year, it will make a proposal to the Legislature.

Mr. Hallinan said he was also concerned about curbing sexually transmitted diseases in the city. While prostitutes use condoms regularly, they sometimes get paid more not to use condoms, he said.

In the Polk Street neighborhood, home mainly to male prostitutes, residents are generally supportive of the idea of city-run, regulated brothels.

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