Examiner Staff Writer 4/13/09
San Francisco’s street fairs help attract visitors
and generate revenue, organizers say.
Examiner file photo
– Justified or not, San Francisco’s reputation as a
hedonistic, fun-loving place is derived in large
part from The City’s collection of festivals, street
fairs and parades.
That “only in San Francisco” experience could begin to
fade away, however, due to a cascade of ever-increasing city fees,
dwindling corporate sponsorships, and a reliance on tenuous alcohol and
As a result, some are predicting that many of The
City’s street fairs — which range from outré gatherings such as the
Folsom Street Fair to more traditional events like the North Beach Jazz
Festival — might vanish by next year.
“I think this is going to be the make-or-break year
for about a half-dozen festivals, including ours,” said Brad Olsen,
founder of the How Weird Street Faire that takes place every May in SoMa.
“The City bankrupts these events with the fees they charge.”
One event, the San Francisco Blues Festival, a
tradition in The City since 1973, has been canceled this year due to a
lack of sponsorships.
Mike Farrah, director of the Mayor’s Office of
Neighborhood Services, said The City has been in contact with the
event’s backers to see what can be done to revive it.
Mayor Gavin Newsom is committed to keeping The City’s
vibrant mix of festivals and parades, said Farrah — but officials also
have an obligation to their citizens.
“The City is struggling with revenue, and we have to
make sure our streets stay clean and people are safe,” Farrah said. To
stage a special event on city’s streets, organizers often have to get
approval from a litany of city agencies. Collectively, all the agencies
fall under San Francisco’s street closure approval department called the
Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation, or
Olsen said the various city fees can total up to about
$40,000, including a $9,500 charge paid to the Police Department to have
required officers at the event. The How Weird Street Faire — which drew
up to 10,000 people in 2007 — has been without incident in its nine
years of existence, Olsen said. Nonetheless, each year it has to
pay for a squadron of about 10 officers, he said.
Other hefty charges event organizers face come from
the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees Muni
as well as The City’s parking enforcement.
The agency charges a per vehicle fee of $8 per hour to
re-route buses around special events — a cost that is slated to go up to
$14 an hour per bus in 2012. Event organizers also must pay for parking
“We want to do everything we can to encourage and
support the events that make San Francisco such a fun city to live in
and visit,” Muni spokesman Judson True said. “Our fees are set only to
cover the costs of our work on such events.”
Covering the costs of events is an issue on both
Olsen said he covers The City costs for the How Weird
Street Faire through donations and by taking a cut of vendor sales.
Despite growing in popularity, however, the festival has never brought
in a significant profit, he said, and most years he’s lucky to break
John Wood — who runs the San Francisco LoveFest, an annual event that
took place in October, and included a parade down Market Street and an
“outdoor dance club” in Civic Center Plaza — said many events rely
heavily on alcohol sales to keep their organizations afloat. The irony,
he said, is that successful alcohol sales mean more, costlier police
officers and the increased risk that neighborhood groups will oppose the
“We thought about charging admission to enter, but a
city ordinance requires that we only ask for a donation,” Wood said. “If
The City wants us to keep paying for all these bills, they’re going to
have to give us another way to raise revenue.”
Wood’s event attracted 100,000 revelers last year, the
first in which he earned money instead of losing it. His payments to The
City, however, totaled $130,000, he said, including $50,000 for off-duty
“If we have a bad weather day and people don’t show
up, we could lose a lot of money,” Wood said. “That could make the end
of Love Fest.”
Robert Leon, who has organized the Haight-Ashbury
Street Fair since 1979, said The City fees for the event have increased
from about $6,000 to $8,000 five years ago, to $12,000 to $15,000
now. “It’s definitely more expensive and costs are going up,” Leon said.
Unlike many cities nationwide, San Francisco has
managed to escape the full wrath of the current economic crisis. But Rob
Cowan, a producer of the North Beach Jazz Festival, thinks The City
could change drastically if it stops offering its trademark
celebrations, and becomes less of a destination point.
“These events generate income and important tax
revenue,” Cowan said. “They’re what attract people to San Francisco,
because outside of the service industry there is not much to The City.
And if you take events away, what do you have? You have Detroit. And I
don’t think anyone wants that here.”
The price of the party
To hold an event in The City,
fees must be paid to various agencies:
Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic
and Transportation for temporary street closures (ISCOTT) filing fee:
$150-$750 — set to go up July 1 to $475-$775
Municipal Transportation Agency:
Charges for re-routing public transportation around
$8 per hour for every trolley bus rerouted around site — will
increase to $14 an hour by 2012
Department of Parking and Traffic:
$74/hour for on-duty Parking Control Officers — will increase to $76.72
on May 1.
$270 for inspection
permit, $90 for additional permits for heater
Department of Public Works:
depend on size and time of event. $2,000-$5,000 for average festival
Department of Public Health:
application plus food vendor inspection fees
average) for off-duty police officers
Alcohol Bureau Control (state agency):
Overtime adds up fast for police presence
The San Francisco Police
Department requires staffing for each festival, and the number of
officers assigned is determined by the captain of the district where the
event takes place. Called 10B officers, after a city ordinance, the
police are working overtime and receive, on average, about $87 an hour,
a bill festival producers have to foot, according to Lt. Nicole Greeley,
who oversees the 10B program for the Police Department.
Greeley said captains look at alcohol use at the
festival, past history and the type of event. “Our captains look at a
variety of different factors before deciding how to staff these
festivals,” Greeley said. “There is definitely not a uniform formula."
In January, the Police Department announced it would
be enforcing a seldom-used clause of the 10B ordinance to charge an
extra $6.25 an hour if an officer is using a motorcycle to patrol the
area, and an extra $13 an hour if an officer is in a police car.
The Police Department’s pay is based on overtime
rates, which can increase anywhere from 2 to 4 percent biannually,