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Castro camera town hall announced for February

Assistant Editor

A screengrab of the Castro Street Cam last fall.
A screengrab of the Castro Street Cam last fall.  

An online survey to solicit feedback about a proposed public safety camera program in the Castro neighborhood will end shortly before a February town hall on the contentious issue, according to the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District.

Andrea Aiello, a lesbian who is the executive director of the CBD, told the Bay Area Reporter January 11 that "we are keeping the camera survey live through just before the town hall" and gave a time of February 8 for its cessation.

This is the first such announcement from the CBD for either event, though a more specific date has yet to be decided.

As the B.A.R. reported online last week, a committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously advanced a resolution to the full board January 7 that would place some limits on the ability of community benefit districts and other groups to utilize surveillance camera systems.

A proposal last year that the Castro CBD install 125 cameras was opposed by the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District and the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, leading Aiello to announce that a survey and a virtual town hall will be held before any proposals proceed further.

The anonymous survey, which opened last month, takes approximately 12 minutes to complete.

The cultural district initially announced erroneous dates for the CBD survey ending and town hall but withdrew that statement Monday.

"The CQCD advisory board has taken a position opposing this proposed surveillance system due to key privacy and oversight concerns, and although we have additional concerns about the leading tone of this survey, we encourage as much of our community to participate before the deadline and let your voice be heard," Tina Aguirre, a genderqueer Latinx person who is the manager of the cultural district, wrote in an email to the B.A.R. "We will continue to keep our community informed on future developments!"

Tech mogul Chris Larsen has funded CBDs to install cameras around San Francisco, as the New York Times reported in July 2020. Larsen, who has not responded to B.A.R. requests for comment, has paid for over 1,000 cameras to surveil people in the Fisherman's Wharf, Lower Polk, Mid-Market, Tenderloin, Union Square, and Japantown neighborhoods.

A lawsuit was filed against the city last year by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging police illegally conducted mass surveillance on the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted in the late spring by commandeering private security cameras in the Union Square area.

Last fall, after it was proposed that the Castro CBD install cameras, the Milk club was successfully able to apply pressure to the CBD board to postpone a vote on accepting some $695,000 for a network of security cameras.

The Milk club did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

Updated, 1/13/21: This article has been updated to indicate the online survey will end February 8.

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