Some North Beach residents think this Rec and Park procedural shell game is punishment for Garland and her organization's opposition to Peskin, whom they blame for the change.
"Aaron Peskin would like to take Marsha Garland's livelihood away," said Richard Hanlin, a landlord and 30-year resident of North Beach who filed a complaint over the incident with the Ethics Commission.
"They want to railroad Marsha," said Lynn Jefferson, president of the civic group North Beach Neighbors. "They want to see her out of business. If she doesn't have those alcohol sales, she'll personally go bankrupt."
At the heart of the Garland-Peskin beef is a 2003 battle over a lot at 701 Lombard St. known as "the Triangle," which the owner wanted to develop but which the Telegraph Hill Dwellers wanted for a park after they found a deed restriction indicating it should be considered for open space. Peskin agreed with the group he once led and had the city seize the land by eminent domain, drawing the wrath of Garland and others who saw it as an abuse of government power.
Peskin told the Guardian that it’s true he doesn’t care for Garland, but that he did nothing improper to influence the commission's decision or agenda. However, he added that he’s made no secret of his opposition to fencing off much of the park to create a beer garden and that he’s made that point to Rec and Park every year since the festival’s beer garden started taking over the park in 2003.
“Just let the people use Washington Square Park. It’s the commons of North Beach,” Peskin said. “The park should be open to people of all ages 365 days a year. That’s just how I feel.”
Yet Peskin said that neither the North Beach Jazz Festival, which doesn’t segregate people by age, nor festivals that use less neighborhood-centered parks, like the Civic Center and Golden Gate Park, should be held to the same standard. In fact, he plans to speak out in favor of the jazz festival’s right to sell alcohol during the May 3 meeting.
Access became the buzzword this year, in response to last year's decision by the San Francisco Police Department to gate two-thirds of the park off as a beer garden, effectively prohibiting many underage festivalgoers from actually entering a large part of the park. The section near the playground remained ungated, but many families were disillusioned by the penning of the party.
Enter the North Beach Merchants Association, a two-year-old rival of the Chamber of Commerce with stated concerns about booze. President Anthony Gantner learned that the park code banned alcohol from being served in any of the parks listed in Section 4.10, which includes Washington Square as well as nearly every other greenway in the city, unless by permission of the Recreation and Park Commission, which should only be granted as long as it "does not interfere with the public's use and enjoyment of the park."
Gantner and Peskin both argue that the beer garden does interfere with the right of those under 21 to use the park. "The Chamber is basically doing a fair, and that's it," Gantner said. "A lot of its members are bars, and they run a very large fair with beer gardens that result in incidents on the streets for merchants."