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North Beach festivals still on
despite ban on alcohol sales

By Angela Hokanson, Bay City News Service

May 31, 2006

Both the North Beach Festival and the North Beach Jazz Festival are still on for this summer, but the organizers of both events are facing significant challenges after the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission voted Tuesday not to allow the sale of alcohol in Washington Square Park.

The Commission voted 6-1 to approve the permit to hold the North Beach Jazz Festival, but not to allow the sale of alcohol in the park during the event, according to Rose Dennis, director of public affairs at the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department.

The organizers of the North Beach Jazz Festival are appealing the Commission's decision, and if it isn't reversed, they will most likely have to cancel the event, according to Robert Kowal, one of the directors of the event.

"We're hoping that common sense will prevail" and that the Commission will reverse its decision," Kowal said.

The ban on selling alcohol in the park would cost between $40,000 and $60,000 in revenue, Kowal said.

The alternative the Commission offered to jazz festival organizers -- that alcohol be permitted on Union Street between Columbus and Stockton streets, but not allowed in the park -- was not actually a workable compromise, Kowal said.

Kowal expects the jazz festival's appeal to be on the Commission's agenda for a June 15 meeting.

The North Beach Jazz Festival is scheduled to take place July 26-30.

The Commission also voted 6-1 on Tuesday to deny an appeal by the organizers of the North Beach Festival that would have reversed the decision to ban the sale of alcohol at Washington Square Park during the North Beach Festival, which will take place on June 17 and 18.

Commissioner Jim Lazarus cast the one dissenting vote in each case.

The North Beach Festival is still on, but the event will lose an estimated $40,000 due to the ban on the sale of alcohol in the park, according to Marsha Garland, the executive director of the North Beach Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the June festival.

Garland hopes to raise additional revenue for the festival, which costs about $250,000 to put on, through sponsorships.

Alcohol sales generate the "break-even" money of the event, and the festival will have a net monetary loss because of the ban, Garland said.

Those opposed to the sale of alcohol in the park cite public safety problems that could arise because of excessive drinking, Dennis said.

Ultimately, the decisive factor in banning the sale of alcohol in the park was maintaining unfettered access to park for all people, according to Dennis.

The organizers of both festivals were perplexed by the Commission's decision.

"We've had alcohol in the park for 15 years. What changed?" Garland said.

Kowal said the Commission's decision indicated either a "lack of understanding of or a willful disdain for our festival."

Public safety issues have never been a problem at the jazz festival, Kowal said.

"We run a very controlled event," Garland said.

According to festival organizers, most San Franciscans want the festival to go on with alcohol being sold in the park.

Around 275 letters by residents in favor of holding the jazz festival with alcohol sales in the park were submitted to the Commission during a 10-day period, according to Kowal.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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