Court rules San Francisco can’t ban suspected drug dealers from neighborhood

Two people are on a street near a street cleaner.
Two men who were seen using drugs are asked to move while San Francisco city workers pressure-wash a sidewalk along Van Ness Avenue in the Tenderloin district of downtown in February.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A California appeals court ruled against an effort by San Francisco to ban four suspected drug dealers from a 50-square-block area in a neighborhood rife with drug dealing and drug use.

The ruling issued Friday is part of a case that started in 2020 when San Francisco sued 28 alleged drug dealers who frequent the Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods. The city was attempting to clean up the area, which has seen the city’s largest number of overdose deaths.

Then-San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera said the lawsuits, if approved in California Superior Court, would prevent the alleged dealers from entering that area of downtown.

The state’s 1st District Court of Appeal said a local government may be entitled to issue narrowly targeted stay-away orders to wrongdoers in some circumstances, but not one that is so broad, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday..


Unlike its counterparts nationwide, homicides barely rose in San Francisco, but thefts and break-ins have surged.

The city’s first attempt to enforce the ban against four of the 28 alleged drug dealers was blocked last May by a state judge in San Francisco who said state law did not appear to authorize a court to prohibit someone from entering a geographic area — but even if it did, the proposed order was so broad that it would violate the constitutional right to travel.

“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,” Justice Marla Miller wrote in Friday’s 3-0 ruling.

Miller said, however, that “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.”

She said the San Francisco judge was entitled to believe the four people’s statements “that they were interested in taking advantage of the employment, treatment, housing, and health services available in the 50-square-block neighborhood.”

San Francisco City Atty. David Chiu’s spokesperson, Jen Kwart, said Monday that the office was disappointed by the ruling and had not decided whether to appeal.