Updated 6:04 pm, Tuesday, February 9, 2016It was supposed to be opening day on Tuesday for a new counseling center for convicted sex offenders in an Upper Market Street neighborhood. But when the time came to open the front doors, they stayed shut and locked.
The opening of the clinic is now on indefinite hold, according to Supervisor Scott Wiener, who said he is introducing legislation that would require a public hearing and a vote by the Planning Commission to approve or reject the project.
“The neighbors are justifiably upset,” said Wiener, who represents the area. “It’s very jarring to people to find out this center is moving in without advance knowledge.”
All through the Duboce Triangle neighborhood, residents agreed they were plenty jarred.
“They’re all criminal people,” said the cashier at Golden Natural Foods a few doors south, while shelving a $5 box of raspberries. “They’re very scary. They’re not regular people. They need help. But not in this neighborhood. There are so many people who are so angry. We need good neighbors, not bad neighbors.”
The cashier gave her name only as Sally. She said she was too nervous about the situation to give her last name.
‘People need to feel secure’
“We’d prefer them to be somewhere else,” said Will Sockolov, the head coach at the $300-a-month Flagship Crossfit gym a few doors away. He was doing chin-ups on a bar while waiting for students of his noon exercise class to arrive.
“There’s got to be an industrial area. Someplace else, someplace less populated, less exposed to families. We already have a needle exchange place a block away. For our neighborhood to add a sex addict clinic, that’s not heading in the right direction. People need to feel secure.”
Sockolov’s gym used to be a Halloween costume store and a video rental store. Sure, he said, businesses come and go. But Sharper Future is not an ordinary business.
“We don’t need this kind of neighbor,” he said. “There’s got to be someplace else for them.”
For weeks, since word got out that Sharper Future was seeking to move from its existing center at 1540 Market St. to the larger space at Duboce and Church, neighbors have been chatting up each other about it. On Monday night, they held a public meeting to vent their frustrations to Wiener and representatives of the clinic and City Hall.
Neighbors complained that they had received no notice about the move and that a clinic for sex offenders is not an ordinary neighbor. Several hundred people showed up at the CPMC Davies Hospital auditorium a few blocks away to sound off.
Turning the other cheek
About the only neighbor who said he was OK with having a clinic for sex offenders down the street was Dave Walda, the senior administrator at St. Francis Lutheran Church. He said he was “a little concerned” but that it would “probably be OK.” St. Francis of Assisi, he said, would have supported the move and so would the entity that St. Francis reports to, who is known for turning the other cheek.
“The bottom line is that they’re human beings,” Walda said. “Everyone has problems and everyone needs help. Sometimes I think people get too overanxious. My feeling is that my arms are open. I hope the neighborhood doesn’t come tar and feather me when they find out how I feel.”
The center, Walda acknowledged, could give local parents “something extra to watch out for.” But, he added, “watching out for children is what parents have to do anyway.”
The corner of Church and Duboce, say neighborhood parents, is too close to schools and parks. Just about every corner in San Francisco, reply Sharper Future supporters, is close to schools and parks.
A block west is the Friends of St. Francis Preschool, where 38 children were sitting in a circle singing “Oh, Susanna” on Tuesday and director Sally Large said their safety was her prime concern.
A sex-offender center, she said, “causes concern about how we would be stewards for our families.”
“We know those people need to be served, and we encourage that,” she said. “But we work hard to protect our children. And there are issues of decreasing safety in Duboce Triangle.”
‘A NIMBY about something’
A block away from the proposed center, along Market and Duboce, folks were sprawled on the sidewalk or spreading wares of questionable lineage for sale. Not far from where tech buses line up every morning to whisk workers down the Peninsula lie a drop box to safely dispose of used needles and a 25-cent street bathroom that always seems to have a customer inside doing something besides going to the bathroom.
The Duboce Triangle Safeway is so big that several guards stand on duty, to ensure customers remember to pay for their selections. A half block away is the fortress-like U.S. Mint, a building full of even more guards and surrounded with barbed wire to keep itself safe from the neighbors, not the other way around.
Marc Haber, head of the Duboce Park Neighbors group, said it’s not fair to use the familiar term NIMBY — “not in my backyard” — to describe his neighbors’ reaction.
“Everyone is a NIMBY about something,” he said. “Some people would be against a pet store or a Chipotle moving in. I’m not afraid to have people find out that I’m against having sex offenders moving in.”
Counseling center’s goals
The counseling center offers “specialized treatment for individuals who have committed sexual offenses ... in the interest of future community safety,” the Sharper Future website says.
Most clients are “convicted sex offenders referred directly by a parole agent or a probation officer. After careful initial assessment, each qualified participant moves into a group-based ... curriculum, which addresses the core issues related to the offense. Participants are expected to acknowledge their sexual problems and admit having committed their offense,” the website says.
The “Sharper” stands for “Social Habilitation and Relapse Prevention — Expert Resources.” The center was founded in 1995 by San Francisco psychologists Mary-Perry Miller and Tom Tobin and operates 10 facilities throughout California. Representatives of Sharper Future did not return calls for comment on Tuesday.