Bay to Breakers crackdown averted, but logistical problems with the event remain
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City officials and race organizers have dropped plans for a crackdown on partying at the annual Bay to Breakers race in the face of a massive grassroots organizing effort that quickly generated more than 20,000 members opposed to the proposed bans on alcohol, floats, and nudity.
"We're pleased with the outcome. I think it's a victory," Ed Sharpless of the group Citizens for the Preservation of Bay2Breakers told the Guardian. "When you have over 20,000 people join your group in two weeks, it means something."
It means that people are tired of the string of crackdowns by Mayor Gavin Newsom (and his special events coordinator, Martha Cohen) that the Guardian has labeled the "Death of fun" (see "Death of fun, the sequel," 4/25/07), which have included canceling Halloween in the Castro District and placing restrictions on the Haight Ashbury Street Fair, How Weird Street Faire, North Beach Festival, North Beach Jazz Festival, and other events.
And the public outcry demonstrates that big events like Bay to Breakers don't belong to the organizers and sponsors; they've become the property of the entire city.
Sharpless was part of a Feb. 27 meeting convened by the Mayor's Office that included opponents of the crackdown, race organizers, neighborhood groups, and Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who has been trying to balance complaints about public urination, drunkenness, and trash with his concerns about killing yet another party.
Afterward, the Mayor's Office issued a statement indicating that floats would be allowed as long as they aren't used to transport alcohol, urging Bay to Breakers participants to register for the race, and stating that alcohol consumption "will be subject to the laws of California. Race organizers will coordinate with the San Francisco Police Department to proactively remove kegs and glass bottles of alcohol from the race course."
While that alcohol policy was left deliberately vague, those involved with the negotiations and the May 17 event say drinking will be allowed as long as attendees don't get out of control. As with alcohol, nudity isn't specifically allowed, but it's no longer explicitly banned.
"The issue was it had gotten out of hand last year," Sam Singer, a crisis communications specialist brought in by race organizers, told the Guardian. He said the race organizers wanted to put a stop to the mayhem and proposed the restrictions, but eventually agreed to work with the partyers this year.
"There was a request by the pro-float, pro-alcohol group to continue what had been a San Francisco tradition. Now it's incumbent on them to register for the race so organizers can pay for it," he said. "This debate has created a positive social pressure to be a cool person and to be respectful of one's self and one's neighbors."
Opponents of the crackdown agree and say they will work to keep things under control. Or as Citizens for the Preservation of Bay2Breakers wrote in a public statement, "The problems with public drunkenness ... we get it and agree. People, you need to act more responsibly. Pace yourself. It's a long day. Don't get out of hand and don't ruin it for the majority of folks who are acting responsibly. Most importantly, take care of your friends and each other."
But there are still outstanding questions about whether race organizers (including for-profit corporations AEG and ING) are providing enough portable toilets and trash receptacles to avoid last year's problems, concerns that were raised but not resolved on Feb. 26 during a permitting hearing before the city's Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation.
Organizers told ISCOTT they would provide 650 portable toilet this year, compared to 550 last year, and that they would be more concentrated around problem areas such as Alamo Square and the Panhandle. But Sharpless told the committee that still wasn't adequate, describing last year's problems as "mostly a logistical issue" and saying the proposed crackdown and hiring of Singer, who often charges $400 per hour, were counterproductive.
"Why is it they bring in such a heavyweight to deal with this when they could have applied their resources to these logistical issues?" Sharpless told ISCOTT. "They want to take away the fun in San Francisco to make a buck."
Longtime runner Tony Rossman, who supports the crackdown, didn't agree and told ISCOTT, "There is a one-word problem here and that is alcohol. And that requires public enforcement."
But Conor Johnstone, a runner who opposes the crackdown, told ISCOTT that banning alcohol was an attack on the character of the 97-year-old event, rather than dealing with the main stated problems. "I think an increase of 100 Porta-Potties is anemic at best," he said.
Jeremy Pollock, who was representing Sup. Mirkarimi, offered ISCOTT and race organizers a long list of suggestions to mitigate the problems, including using large capacity urinals, creating an end point with entertainment and Dumpsters for those with floats, and setting a cheaper registration tier for those who aren't serious runners. "Nobody wants to see this race end," he said.
Opponents of the crackdown say they will continue working to resolve the outstanding issues.
"We're not done, folks. There is still work to be done. Issues to be resolved. Details to be hammered out," Citizens for the Preservation of Bay2 Breakers wrote in a public statement. "What wasn't discussed at the meeting and tabled for later discussion are the logistical deficiencies we still believe exist with race organizers' plan for the event. Recent research by our group revealed that the New York Marathon sources 2,250 toilets for 39,000 participants in their race, while AEG race organizers source only 500 toilets for 65,000 participants in Bay to Breakers. Could it be that there are such massive issues with public urination because there simply aren't enough toilets?"
Mirkarimi was happy with the agreement, but said it didn't address the logistical concerns he's been raising. "It's a good step in the right direction. However, this is predicated on the trust that may not be felt until the day of the race. We were looking for specifics to improve this race."