Even in SF, there is no free naked lunch

The news release headline reads, “Supervisor Wiener to introduce legislation restricting public nudity to appropriate venues.” That’s San Francisco City Hall-speak for: The city is getting ready to ban public nudity, but not from the Folsom Street Fair or other public venues where nudity has been known to make cameo appearances.

If the San Francisco Board of Supervisors actually does ban public nudity, it will do so after so much hand-wringing you would think the supes had been handcuffed to reality and forced to stare at too much sagging skin.

I feel for Scott Wiener — who was elected in 2010, just as The Castro turned “clothing-optional.” During the election, the supervisor told me, public nudity wasn’t an issue. You’d see the odd naked person here and there, but nobody cared.

In the past two years, however, nudity has devolved into a quality-of-life issue. Naked guys turn up daily at Jane Warner Plaza to plop their tenders in public places. On weekends, you may see gangs of nude folk riding bikes or walking in packs along the Embarcadero. If so, you do not think, “La dolce vita.”

The three words that come to mind are: Too much information.

Last year, Wiener heeded constituents’ mounting complaints about naked men on public benches and unclad adults dining not only alfresco but also au naturel. Wiener introduced an ordinance to require that nudists place some kind of cloth between their buttocks and their seating. The napkin lobby dared not protest.

Wiener did not dare propose a ban on public nudity. “San Francisco is a liberal and tolerant city,” quoth Wiener in a statement at the time, “and we pride ourselves on the fact.”

Alas, with the Wiener ordinance in place, there are more birthday suits than ever. “We’ve always had our nude people, one or two,” resident Dennis Richards told me. “Now we have 10 or 12” or even 15. There are so many that you cannot avoid seeing privates in public.

“I don’t even own a bathing suit,” Richards told me. He goes to nude beaches, where people know what they’re going to see, or maybe soaks up some rays in his backyard. “But I at least have the common sense that I do it where it’s supposed to be done.”

“I fought for gay rights,” Richards, a vice president for Salesforce.com, lamented. “This is not what I fought for.”

“I didn’t want to have to go here,” Wiener told me. “This isn’t the area I want to be legislating.” He rather would pass housing or public transportation bills. But:

“This is a city where people live, work and raise families,” Wiener noted. There’s an elementary school just blocks from the plaza. “It’s not a gigantic nudist paradise.”

Both Wiener and Richards blame out-of-towners for coming to the Special City to go bald. The problem, noted Wiener, is that these stark-naked tourists are “undermining the neighborhood.”

Thus, a city that prides itself for its tolerance must find a way to police those who visually assault fellow citizens without prior consent.

One naked guy may be a nuisance, but too much nudity begets too much crudity. It degrades the social fabric. For San Francisco’s political class, you might say, stark-naked people have become the new pothole.

Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is dsaunders@sfchronicle.com

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