By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco city leaders gave final approval on Tuesday to a ban on public nudity, a measure aimed at curtailing displays of nakedness that some residents and business owners say have gotten out of control in the famously tolerant city.
San Francisco Board of Supervisors' action at City Hall prompted about a half dozen angry protesters to strip down to their socks.
Standing at the ready with blankets, sheriff's deputies quickly covered up the demonstrators and led them from the majestic beaux-arts chamber. Protesters, one wearing only rainbow knee socks and another sporting black nylons, chanted, "body freedom" and "shame on you" as they were escorted out.
The Board of Supervisors gave preliminary approval to the nudity ban two weeks ago. Its final 6-5 vote on Tuesday came without further debate from the panel.
The supervisors' efforts to clamp down on public nudity has caused a flap in the city, where men in particular are known to parade in the buff through the streets of the predominantly gay Castro District.
Some residents and business owners say nudists, and specifically a group known as the Naked Guys, have gone too far with their constant presence at a square in the Castro District. But nudists claim a right to bare all and say politicians in San Francisco, which has often celebrated the bizarre and unconventional, should leave them alone.
Mayor Ed Lee is expected to sign the ordinance, which would clear the way for it to take effect on February 1.
Supervisor Scott Wiener drafted the proposal to ban public nudity in the city, and he represents the Castro District. Opponents dubbed the ordinance the "Wiener bill."
"This has been a very difficult issue, a lot of strong views on both sides," Wiener told Reuters after the vote. "But it was an issue that needed to be addressed, and I addressed it in a very narrow way."
The ban would prohibit most nudity in public, but it would continue to allow marchers at special events, like the San Francisco Pride Parade, to bare all. Children under 5 can be naked in public and sunbathers can continue to strip down on nude beaches.
California state law prohibits indecent exposure, but law enforcement must show evidence of lewd behavior rather than simple nudity. A number of cities, including San Jose and Berkeley, already have nudity bans, Wiener said.
Four nudists, including a former San Francisco mayoral candidate, have filed suit challenging the ban. Attorney Christina DiEdoardo, who represents the plaintiffs, says the city is depriving nudists of their constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection.
"Now the city is going to have to spend considerable time and money to defend an ordinance that didn't have to be passed," DiEdoardo said.
San Francisco last year required nudists to cover the surfaces they sit on in public places and to wear clothes in restaurants. Residents say the restrictions spurred defiant exhibitionism.
Violators under the city's nudity ban would be fined up to $100 for a first offense and $200 for a second. Three-time offenders would face up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.
(Reporting by Ronnie Cohen; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Stacey Joyce)