SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco will once again be the butt of national ridicule -- or a beacon of freedom of expression -- depending on your point of view. The latest issue? Public nudity.
Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced legislation Tuesday that would require nudists to put something under their bottoms if they take a seat in public and to cover up when they're in a restaurant.
His immediate concern is for public health and sanitation, he said, and not about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of public nudity.
"That's a different debate for a different day," he said.
"What this does do," he added, "is require that people show some basic courtesy and decency toward their fellow citizens when they are naked."
Wiener represents the Castro, a favorite gathering spot for a hard-core group of nudists, known as the naked guys, who aren't shy about walking around the neighborhood. They are unabashed in their brazenness, setting off a robust debate about how far San Francisco's legendary penchant for tolerance should be stretched.
Wiener's proposal would make it illegal for nudists to sit on public seating without placing a towel or similar barrier between their body and the seat, or to go into restaurants au natural.
"Only in San Francisco," said Capt. Greg Corrales, commanding officer of Mission Station, whose officers patrol the Castro.
The veteran cop said his station has gotten a lot of complaints about the naked guys, but that enforcement has been almost nonexistent. A complainant, he said, must make a citizen's arrest, allowing an officer to charge someone for being a public nuisance. But that's rarely done. Just walking around naked in San Francisco isn't against the law, unless the person is aroused. Then the conduct can be considered lewd, which is illegal.
Until Wiener, the city's elected leaders have largely stayed out of the debate over public nudity, not wanting to run counter to San Francisco's storied reputation as an anything-goes culture where individual rights and freedom of expression are embraced. But some who live and work in the area say they are fed up with the display of rumps and genitals for all to see.
"I'm all for live and let live, but this has gotten out of hand," said Jonathan Mills, who lives in the Castro and has complained to police about the naked guys. "This is not hip or cool or an asset to San Francisco. These people make other people avoid our neighborhood at a time when it is struggling."
But Eric Anderson, an unapologetic nudist, said the neighborhood is just as much his as anyone else's. Those who have a problem seeing people in the buff need to take a closer look at their own issues with body image, he said.
"To force their conservative views on me isn't fair," he said, seated on a metal chair in the Castro district plaza to eat a sandwich and read a book. Before he sat down, he placed his lime-green sarong on the chair.
Karla Zeitz, who lives in the neighborhood with her children, ages 4 and 5, said she usually avoids the areas where the naked guys congregate. Still, she moved into the Castro knowing it was not Kansas. "Frankly I'm more disturbed by the meth heads, the drugs and the panhandling than I am by seeing a couple of naked guys," she said.
The first offense, under Wiener's proposal, would carry a $100 fine. Breaking the law a second time within a year's period would land the offender a $200 fine. A third arrest would elevate the crime from an infraction to a misdemeanor and come with a penalty of up to a $1,000 fine and up to a year in county jail.
E-mail Rachel Gordon at email@example.com.