By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Four nudists protesting in the buff outside San Francisco's City Hall were handcuffed and hauled off by police on Friday after they ignored instructions to cover up as a public nudity ban took effect in the famously tolerant city.
San Francisco city leaders approved a ban on baring it all in streets, public plazas and the transit system in December to curtail public nudity, which some residents and business owners complained had gotten out of control.
The efforts to clamp down have caused a flap in the city, where men in particular are known to parade naked through the streets of the predominantly gay Castro District, but the nudists this week lost a court challenge to block the law.
A handful of protesters, some of them clothed, turned up to protest the law as it went into effect on Friday on a warm Northern California winter day, including Gypsy Taub, 43, who stripped down to yellow, patent-leather boots.
"War is Obscene, Not My Body," she wrote in purple marker on her bare chest and stomach.
Nudist activist George Davis, 66, used the occasion to announce that he would run next year against City Supervisor Scott Wiener, who wrote the controversial ordinance forbidding people from getting naked below the waist in public.
"I can guarantee you nudists are a tourist draw and are good for business," Davis said during his first stump speech for Wiener's seat, wearing nothing but sandals and a fanny pack.
Some of Wiener's Castro District constituents complained that nudists, particularly Davis and a group of men known as the Naked Guys, were hurting business and causing a public nuisance in his predominately gay neighborhood.
A dozen police officers warned the group they had 15 minutes to dress, and handcuffed three naked men and a woman and drove them to a police station in a van when they refused. They were later released after receiving citations.
Violators of the new ban can be fined up to $100 for a first offense and $200 for a second. A third violation carries a possible $500 fine and a year in jail.
A federal judge earlier in the week threw out a lawsuit trying to block the ban by nudists who argued public nakedness was akin to political expression.
U.S. District Judge Edward Chen concluded that "nudity in and of itself is not inherently expressive," but left open the door for the group to file another suit following imposition of the ban.
Bonnie Preston, 50, who works for the federal government, watched the protest with coworkers on her lunch hour. "I just needed to see what was happening here," she said. "It's very unusual, but I don't think it's worth all the police and the City Hall attention."
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)