Fun under seige

Nightlife and street parties in San Francisco face official crackdowns -- again
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news@sfbg.com

As San Francisco's party season gets underway — a time when just about every weekend includes street fairs and festivals, venerable celebrations like Bay to Breakers, quirky cultural events such a flash mobs, promoter-created club nights, and underground parties designed to raise funds for Burning Man camps and other endeavors — police and other party-poopers keep finding new ways to crack down on the fun.

The latest: potentially fatal price gouging of the How Weird Street Faire, a series of bizarre police raids on underground clubs, and state alcohol officials threatening to yank local club licenses.

For years, the Guardian has been warning that NIMBY neighbors, intolerant enforcers, and indifferent city officials were threatening the vibrant social events that make San Francisco such a fun and unique city (see "Death of fun," 5/23/06, "Death of fun, the sequel," 4/25/07, and regular recent posts on the SFBG Politics blog).

Lately the situation has gotten so bad that even the conservative San Francisco Examiner has written about the problem ("Squeezing the fun out of festivals," 4/13/09) and followed it up with an editorial calling for city officials to address the issue and ensure that the cultural events can keep happening.

Overwhelming public opposition to recently proposed restrictions on the May 17 Bay to Breakers and April 12 Bring Your Own Big Wheel events led City Hall to pressure the San Francisco Police Department into reversing promises of a crackdown, although many events are being threatened.

The How Weird Street Faire is scheduled for May 10, although organizers say they can't come up with the nearly $10,000 the San Francisco Police Department is demanding by May 1. Organizer Brad Olsen sought help from City Hall (Sup. Ross Mirkarimi and senior mayoral aide Mike Farrah — who helped save BYOBW — have both tried to intervene, so far to no avail) and unearthed city codes that seem to cap police fees for events like How Weird at $5,494, but the cops haven't budged.

"Although we appreciate your position, it would be unwise for the SFPD to risk public money by not collecting the required fees prior to the event. If the event is the only way your group is able to pay for police services, we are all betting that the event will be as successful as you hope," SFPD Lt. Nicole Greely wrote to How Weird promoters on April 13, suggesting that organizers take out a loan to pay the escautf8g protection money demanded by SFPD.

But Olsen said his grassroots group, which barely breaks even on the event, has never in its 10-year history been required to pay in advance and told us that entrance donations at the event are the only real source of revenue for the popular dance party.

Meanwhile the Guardian has heard multiple reports of undercover cops infiltrating underground parties in SoMa in the early morning hours of April 11 and 12, followed up by groups of more than a dozen uniformed officers storming in and roughly making arrests for resisting arrest, illegal alcohol sales, and drug possession.

"All of a sudden an undercover cop just tackled someone on the dance floor," 27-year-old San Francisco resident Ryan Parkhurst told us, describing the scene at one party. "Then at that point, more than 10 officers came upstairs ... I asked an officer, 'What's going on?' and he said, 'Arrest this guy.'"

Parkhurst said four cops then jumped on him, roughed him up, and arrested him. "Another guy was beat up worse than I was, with severe bruises and scratches all over his face."

Parkhurst said he was charged with being drunk in public, resisting arrest, and assaulting an officer, but when he went to court on April 13, he was told all charges had been dropped.