Party’s Over, San Francisco

Just in time for spring, the SFPD wants you to know the party’s over.

My friend Mike owns an underground party venue, and last night the cops raided a no-alcohol event at his place with 20 officers.  They told him that a new police task force is taking to the streets with military-style tactics to stop non-licensed parties.  What Mike didn’t know is that, as the Chronicle reported today, this is part of a larger effort by the cops to reign in all party spaces – licensed or not.

SFPD says that a shooting last weekend at 3rd and Folsom prompted the creation of this new task force.  And yet their own homicide investigators admitted that the shooting had nothing to do with a nightclub.   It seems as though they are looking for any excuse to raid nightclubs and parties.

And ironically, the police are making the violence worse.  An April 12 shooting in front of the club Whisper happened only after the police had cleared the club, leaving the crowd outside confused and itching for a fight.  I’ve also heard of rowdy partygoers being beaten by police in front of these clubs, and then later charged with “resisting arrest” and “assaulting an officer” only for these charges to be later dropped.

The struggle of underground venues has been going on for a while.  Another friend owns a space in SOMA that has been dogged for years by the authorities.  His space holds several hundred people, but it’s not licensed because the configuration of the building prevents him from having enough fire escapes to accommodate the City’s strict fire code. Now that the City is cracking down, he has stopped holding all but the smallest of events.

Now I’m not going to defend unsafe spaces.  If there were a fire in any venue, I’d want there to be adequate exits and fire sprinklers.

But what’s interesting to me is the timing of this crackdown.  For years, the authorities have looked the other way since the underground clubs didn’t seem to cause any problems. But not any more.  Suddenly, the War on Partying has gained momentum.

As my readers know, the organizers of Bay to Breakers are cracking down on partying, and we’re still not sure how the new rules are going to play out.   The organizers of the How Weird Street Faire are struggling against the SFPD to keep that fun and funky festival alive.  How Weird is being charged an unprecedented $10,000 for police protection, which is vastly more than what they’ve been charged before.  And, I might add,  How Weird has never had violence problems in its past.

The SFPD came close to shutting down the Bring Your Own Big Wheel event earlier this month, until the Mayor’s Office stepped in to cut a deal with the event organizers and the cops, keeping this Only In San Francisco event around to live another day.   Even Deep Jawa‘s tame and silly-fun Flashdance parties are being cut short by the fuzz.

But wait! There’s more.  As if they smelled blood in the water, the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control has jumped into the fight.  According to the Chronicle, ABC is cracking down on all-ages music venues for minor violations, such as not serving enough food.   What the?! Now that’s just gratuitous.  When does it end?

Rumors abound as to why this is happening now.  Is it something about the economy? Are the cops manufacturing a problem to help justify their already bloated overtime budget?  Is the City trying to slit the throats of those who are competing with tax-paying clubs?  Is Captain Tacchini of the Mission Station gunning to replace Heather Fong as Police Chief? Is Fong looking to cement her legacy in these last few months of her tenure? Are a few bad apples causing the cops to overreact, going on an anti-fun rampage?

I don’t know the answer, but this trend is really disturbing.  Surely there’s a way to keep these businesses and events operating in a way that is safe and fun.  Without the wide variety of nightlife options, the spontaneity of harmless parties like Flashdance, and the wackiness of events like Bring Your Own Big Wheel, San Francisco just won’t be the same.

Running Bay to Breakers? Bring a Garbage Bag and a Stadium Pal

OK, here’s the scoop.  Even though the race organizers lifted the bans on nudity, floats and alcohol this year, they haven’t offered any leadership in making this year’s race better.  And what’s worse – they are refusing to provide enough garbage cans and toilets to serve the tens of thousands (a hundred thousand?) of participants and spectators along the course.
There is no doubt that the race last year was a mess.  Garbage  everywhere, neighborhoods were trashed.  Race organizers (AEG) have blamed it on the alcohol consumption, but this blame is misplaced.  It’s not about the alcohol, it’s MUCH bigger than that.  The entire culture of the race needs to be changed.
Events like this have a life of their own, they are a living embodiment of the zeitgest.  But this body can be shaped.
Just as a person can be coached to put the toilet seat down, B2B race participants can learn to treat their city with care.  They’ve figured out how to recycle at home (some of them even compost!) – they can do the same while walking down Fell Street with 40,000 of their closest friends.
But it takes leadership. And the help of the news media.  And a large advertising budget.
And while the participant advocates have been working hard on media coverage, AEG has failed to show leadership and they have so far refused to use their hefty advertising budget to change the culture of Bay to Breakers to make it a more pleasant experience for everyone.  It’s terribly disappointing.  And it is, unfortunately, setting the stage for another messy unsanitary sloppy race.
SO – here’s your to-do list if you’re running in Bay to Breakers this year.
1.  Bring a Stadium Pal. AEG has said that there will be a zero-tolerance policy for public urination.   And yet, they are only providing a few hundred additional portable johns this year.   This is a disaster in the making.  There will not be nearly enough toilets for all of thousands of participants and spectators, and the ones caught peeing in the park will be punished for this lack of adequate planning.  If you don’t have a Travel John (ew!), plan your fluid consumption accordingly, figure out which friends of yours live along the course, and ask them nicely if you and your 50 pirate friends can use their bathroom.
2.  Bring Your Own Garbage Bag. If you’ve been to Burning Man or Yosemite, you’ve heard it before: Leave No Trace.   AEG is refusing to provide enough garbage receptacles for this year’s race so plan to PACK IT OUT.  I know, I know, it means you have to carry that empty handle of Stoli all the way to the Great Highway.  But since you’re not actually running the race, think of it as your personal athletic challenge.
3. Register. Yes, it’s $44!  But do it – this money helps pay for toilets and trash cans, street closure permits and emergency medical teams.  And you should definitely register if you are in charge of a float, or are planning to break any of the new rules (ahem) – in case the police have a few questions for you.   No bib = no credibility.  We’re recommending a two-tiered registration for future races, so you can pay a smaller amount if you don’t want a t-shirt or a timing chip. But this year? Pay up.  It’ll help ensure the longevity of this important San Francisco tradition.
4. Bring Your Float to the Embarcadero. If you’ve run B2B before, you know that no one takes their tiki bar to the starting line.  It’s a lot of work getting it down there, and it’s much easier to get it on the course after the hill in Hayes Valley.  But this year, AEG is insisting that floats enter at the beginning of the race.  If you try entering it mid-course this year, know that the cops might try to stop you.  That is, if you enter at an intersection where they are paying attention.  And if they aren’t being distracted by all the middle age nudists.
5.  Hide Your Keg. While the alcohol ban is lifted this year,  AEG insists that kegs will not be allowed (in fact, floats aren’t to be used to transport alcohol).  I understand the argument, that mass quantities of alcohol lead to more drunk behavior.  But kegs have been around for years, even when the race wasn’t nearly as messy.  There’s a good argument  that this policy is hostile to the environment, as kegs create far less waste than bottles and cans.  The police don’t have the resources to pull every keg off the course, so if you’re  discrete they might look the other way.  Besides, a shopping cart with a keg in it? You can do better than that.
6.  Tell Your Friends to Do The Same. Since AEG has refused to spend any part of their marketing budget on changing the B2B race culture, we’ll have to do it the old fashioned way: word of mouth.  And the new fashioned ways: text message, email, Twitter, Facebook. Tell your friends to party responsibly.  Let’s clean up after ourselves.  Show them we can reduce our impact on the urban environment.  Because if we don’t, AEG will most certainly will try to ban the nudity, the alcohol and the floats again next year. And next year they might succeed.