Fun - in the form of fairs, festivals, bars, art in the parks, and the freedom to occasionally drink alcohol in public places - is under attack in San Francisco.
The multipronged assault is coming primarily from two sources: city agencies with budget shortfalls and NIMBYs who don't like to hear people partying. The crackdown has only intensified since the Guardian sounded the alarm last year (see "The Death of Fun," 5/24/06), but the fun seekers are now organizing, finding some allies, and starting to push back.
Mayor Gavin Newsom and other city hall leaders have been meeting with the Outdoor Events Coalition, which formed last year in response to the threat, about valuing the city's beloved social gatherings and staving off steep fee hikes that have been sought by the Recreation and Park, Fire, Public Works, and Police departments.
Those conversations have already yielded at least a temporary reprieve from a substantial increase in use fees for all the city's parks. It's also led to a rollback of the How Weird Street Faire's particularly outrageous police fees (its $7,700 sum last year jumped to $23,833 this year - despite the event being forced by the city to end two hours earlier - before pressure from the Guardian and city hall forced it back down to $4,734).
The San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee will also wade into the issue April 25 when it considers a resolution warning that "San Francisco has become noticeably less tolerant of nightlife and outdoor events." It is sponsored by Scott Wiener, Robert Haaland, Michael Goldstein, and David Campos.
The measure expresses this premier political organization's "strong disagreement with the City agencies and commissions that have undermined San Francisco's nightlife and tradition of street festivals and encourages efforts to remove obstacles to the permitting of such venues and events up to and including structural reform of government permitting processes to accomplish that goal."
The resolution specifically cites the restrictions and fee increases that have hit the How Weird Street Faire, the Haight Ashbury Street Fair (where alcohol is banned this year for the first time), and the North Beach Jazz Festival, but it also notes that a wide variety of events "provide major fundraising opportunities for community-serving nonprofits such as HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, and violence-prevention organizations that are dependent upon the revenue generated at these events."
Yet the wet blanket crowd still seems ascendant. Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier now wants to ban alcohol in all city parks that contain playgrounds, which is most of them. Hole in the Wall has hit unexpected opposition to its relocation (see "Bar Wars," 4/18/07), while Club Six is being threatened by its neighbors and the Entertainment Commission about noise issues. And one group is trying to kill a band shell made of recycled car hoods that is proposed for temporary summer placement on the Panhandle.
That project, as well as the proposal for drastically increased fees for using public spaces, is expected to be considered May 3 by the Rec and Park Commission, which is likely to be a prime battleground in the ongoing fight over fun.
Rec and Park, like many other city departments, is facing a big budget shortfall and neglected facilities overdue for attention. A budget analyst audit last year also recommended that the department create a more coherent system for its 400 different permits and increase fees by 2 percent.