Another round

New events coalition raises a ruckus after a second North Beach festival is denied a permit to sell booze
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news@sfbg.com

Members of the newly formed San Francisco Outdoor Events Coalition gathered on the evening of May 3. It had been a long, discouraging day, and the mood was somber.

Robbie Kowal of the North Beach Jazz Festival apologized for not having an agenda ready. "Frankly, I was too busy fighting for the future of my festival at City Hall today," he joked, but nobody really laughed.

Earlier that day, the Recreation and Park Commission Operations Committee voted to deny the jazz festival the right to sell beer and wine inside Washington Square Park. The decision followed a precedent the committee first set last month regarding the larger North Beach Festival (see "Last Call?" 5/3/06).

Alcohol sales provide the bulk of the funding for the free music, but commission president Gloria Bonilla suggested they explore other money sources and sponsorship.

"The idea that there can't be successful events in the city without alcohol, I can't buy into," Bonilla said at the meeting.

Unfortunately, the jazz festival isn't solvent enough for such a firm policy and can't afford to lose the source of 75 percent of its funding less than three months before the event.

"She wants us to pass the hat," Kowal said at the coalition meeting. "We did that last year and we got 78 bucks."

North Beach Jazz Festival is a big generator of fun and revenue for the city, but its organizers say they don't make any money off the deal.

"It's a labor of love," said Kowal, who is considering canceling the festival despite the signed contracts and purchased plane tickets for performers.

Twenty-seven individuals came to the hearing to speak in support of the festival, including Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin, who represents North Beach and has been critical of how the North Beach Festival beer gardens prevent underage people from entering the park.

The three-member committee encouraged the Jazz Festival promoters to pursue other options, like beer gardens on barricaded streets, but took a hard line on booze in the park.

"What I'm interested in is a consistent and fair application of the policy. We've said no alcohol. While I appreciate having Supervisor Peskin come speak to us today, I think we need to be consistent in this policy," Commissioner Meagan Levitan said at the hearing.

Rec and Park general manager Yomi Agunbiade and director of operations Dennis Kern have said "a growing public concern" caused them to recommend against the sale of alcohol for the two North Beach festivals.

"Rec and Park has a new general manager and a new director of operations who are very experienced but come here from other cities," Kowal said. "There's some missing institutional knowledge. We are not Walnut Creek, we are not Chicago, we are not DC. We're San Francisco, and we have our own unique culture."

On May 8, a select group from the coalition met with senior staff from the mayor's office to express its growing concern over increased fees and decreased city services and to discuss the grave implications of Rec and Park's recent decisions for other outdoor festivals in the city. After the meeting Kowal was optimistic and said the mayor and supervisors expressed support for the festivals, but he acknowledged, "We don't live in a city where the mayor can say, ‘This is how it's going to be.’ It's going to come down to the commission again. If people want to see this festival survive, they have to come to City Hall on May 30."