Yet the department responded by proposing to roughly double its special event fees, even though they make up just $560,000 of the $4.5 million that the department collects from all fees. Making things even worse was the proposal to charge events based on a park's maximum capacity rather than the actual number of attendees.
The proposal caused an uproar when it was introduced last year, as promoters say it would kill many beloved events, so it was tabled. Then an almost identical proposal was quietly introduced this year, drawing the same concerns.
"These are just preliminary numbers, and they may change," department spokesperson Rose Dennis told us, although she wouldn't elaborate on why the same unpopular proposal was revived.
Event organizers, who were told last year that they would be consulted on the new fee schedule, were dumbfounded. They say the new policy forces them to come up with a lot of cash if attendance lags or the weather is bad.
Mitigating such a risk means charging admission, corralling corporate sponsorship, or pushing more commerce on attendees. This may not be a hindrance for some of the well-known and sponsored events such as Bay to Breakers and SF Pride, but consider how the low-budget Movie Night in Dolores Park might come up with $6,000 instead of $250, or how additional permit fees could strangle the potential of nascent groups such as Movement for Unconditional Amnesty.
The group is sponsoring a march in honor of the Great American Boycott of 2006. On May 1 it will walk from Dolores Park to the Civic Center in recognition of immigrants' rights. The group wanted to offer concessions, because food vendors donate a percentage of their sales to the organization, but the permit fee for propane use from the Fire Department was too high.
"They couldn't guarantee they'd make more than $1,200 in food to cover the costs of permits," said Forrest Schmidt, of the ANSWER Coalition, who is assisting the organizers. "So they lost an opportunity to raise funds to support their work. It's more than $1,000 taken off the top of the movement."
ANSWER faced a similar problem after the antiwar rally in March, when the rule regarding propane permits was reinterpreted so that a base charge, once applied to an entire event, was now charged of each concessionaire - quadrupling the overall cost. ANSWER pleaded its case against this new reading of the law and was granted a one-time reprieve. But Schmidt says none of the SFFD's paperwork backs up a need to charge so much money.
"They kept on saying over and over again, 'You guys are making money on this,' " Schmidt said. "But it's an administrative fee to make sure we're not setting anything on fire. It's essentially a tax. It's a deceitful form of politics and part of what's changing the demographic of the city."
The Outdoor Events Coalition, which represents more than 25 events in the city, agrees and has been meeting with city officials to hash out another interim solution for this year, as well as a long-term plan for financial sustainability for all parties.
"We're cautiously optimistic," said Robbie Kowal, a coalition leader and organizer of the North Beach Jazz Festival. But he's still concerned about what he and the coalition see as a continuing trend.
"The city is changing in some way. It's becoming a culture of complaint. There's this whole idea you can elect yourself into a neighborhood organization, you can invent your own constituency, and the bureaucracy has to take you seriously. Neighborhood power can be so effective in fighting against a Starbucks, but when it's turned around and used to kill an indigenous part of that neighborhood, like its local street fair, that's an abuse of that neighborhood power."
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