The Gift of Private Camera Networks

Will the Castro Say No Thanks? 

On June 7 at 6:00pm, the Business Improvement District for San Francisco's Castro neighborhood will consider whether they should reject the gift of a $695,000 networked security camera system from tech entrepreneur Chris Larsen. 

Larsen's sponsored camera networks, from vendor AVS, have been provided to a number of San Francisco neighborhoods, including Japantown and the Union Square District. The Union Square camera network was accessed last year by the San Francisco Police Department for real time monitoring of the protests after George Floyd was killed by the Minneapolis Police Department. A lawsuit has been filed by Black Lives Matter protesters.  

The motion on the June 7 agenda provides for two options. 

Vote to continue working with the community and researching the issues related to installing a public safety camera program in the Castro CBD footprint; OR

Vote No on moving forward with the implementation of the public safety camera program in the Castro CBD footprint, effectively ending the program.

Tech entrepreneur Larsen has been shopping his "business improvement district" model for private camera networks outside of San Francisco to other cities, including Portland and Seattle as a public safety innovation. To the best of our knowledge, the Castro Distro BID would be the first BID to reject the gift of a Larsen-funded camera network. 

Several community groups including both LGBT Democratic clubs, the Harvey Milk Club and the Alice B. Toklas Club, the LGBTQ Cultural District, United to Save the Mission, and noted activist Tommi Aviolli Mecca have spoken out in opposition to the Larsen camera network. 

Because this model is being shopped broadly throughout the region and beyond, the decision of the Castro BID will have an impact in the neighborhood, and more widely. We don't have a handy-dandy email action for you (voting member emails are not available), but we want to ask if you can call in Monday night and make a brief public comment. 

Castro Community Benefit District Board of Directors Meeting  Monday June 7, 2021 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm 

Zoom Meeting

Here are some talking points from Castro community advocates:

The Castro has historically been, and has remained, a neighborhood of sanctuary for people who feel unwelcome, different, and unsafe in their communities of origin. The neighborhood's environment of freedom of expression is integral to it. 

Cameras are not the only, or even an effective, route to improving public safety. The BID should consider community-based solutions, not just mass surveillance. 

The vendor, AVS, has significant national security connections and markets their products to entities like the National Security Administration (NSA). We have concerns about a vendor with ties to the security state collecting and retaining centralized video records of all activities in the neighborhood. 

A networked camera system is different than individual dispersed security cameras. A centralized networked system blankets the central shopping and gathering area. 

There is no reason for the BID to continue working with the community. As word spreads, there is more opposition in the community to the camera network, not less. 

Not all neighborhoods are the same. What might seem acceptable in a Downtown Business District may not be acceptable for a neighborhood like the Castro, which is a cultural beacon. 

Thank you for considering giving us some of your precious time on Monday night to support community groups in the Castro.


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