Though Garland contends that the festival is an economic stimulator, resulting in an 80 percent increase in sales for local businesses, Gantner claims that a number of businesses don't benefit from the increased foot traffic. He associates alcohol with the congruent crime issues that crop up when the clubs let out on Broadway, and thinks that selling beer and wine in the park only accelerates problems in the streets after the festival ends at 6 p.m.
Gantner has the ear of local police, who are understaffed by 20 percent and looking for any way to lower costs by deploying fewer cops. "It used to be we could police these events with full staff and overtime, but now we're trying to police them with less resources, and the events themselves are growing," Central Station Capt. James Dudley said.
He's also concerned about the party after the party. The police average five alcohol-related arrests on a typical Friday night in North Beach, most after the bars close. But those numbers don't change much during festival weekend, leading many to question the logic behind banning sales of alcohol in the park. Besides, if sales were banned, many festivalgoers would simply sneak it in. Even one police officer, who didn't want to be named, told us, "If I went to sit in that park to listen to music and couldn't buy beer, I'd probably try pretty hard to sneak some in."
At the April 20 Rec and Park meeting, Garland presented alternative solutions and site plans for selling beer and wine, which represents $66,000 worth of income the festival can't afford to lose. Beyond her openness to negotiations, Rec and Park heard overwhelming support for the festival in the form of petitions and comments from 30 neighbors and business owners who spoke during the general public comment portion of the meeting.
Father John Malloy of the Saints Peter and Paul Church, which is adjacent to the park, spoke in support of Garland's request. "I think I have the most weddings and the most funerals in the city," he said. "I'm praying that we don't have a funeral for the North Beach Festival. If anyone should be against alcohol, it should be the priest of a church."
So who are the teetotalers? Testimony included 10 complaints from members of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, Friends of Washington Square, and the North Beach Merchants Association, as well as Gantner and neighborhood activist Mark Bruno, who came down from Peskin’s office, where he was watching the hearing, to testify.
Commissioner Megan Levitan said, "If anyone knows me, they know I like my wine," before going on to explain that she was born in North Beach and even used to serve beer at O'Reilly's Beer and Oyster Festival. However, she said, she’s a mother now, and parks are important to her.
"It does change a park when alcohol is there," she said. "I do not believe we should serve alcohol in the park."
Will that still be her stance May 3 when the North Beach Jazz Festival requests its permit? The jazz fest has never had beer gardens, and the organizers don't want them. Instead, they set up minibars throughout the park, which remains ungated, allowing complete access for all ages.
Although there is hired security and local police on hand, by and large people are responsible for themselves. The organizers say it's just like going to a restaurant for a meal and a drink, except in this case it's outside, with a stage and free live music.
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