LET'S KEEP IT REAL
With Michael O'Connor
Can We Create a Permit For The Permitting Of Park Permits?
December 17, 2005
I can't say that I had a big interest in the the recent Rolling
Stones shows at PacBell / SBC / WTF Park. The little feedback
which I heard made it sound like Mick Jagger, regardless of his
age, still has "it." However, what I did hear a lot
about was concert related noise complaints.
The sound complaint debate is also alive and well in Golden Gate
Park. If you've ever been to a-la-Carte in the Park then you have
participated and enjoyed an event which has drawn a variety of
sound complaints, not to mention other Golden Gate Park "concerts"
such as Reggae in the Park, Michael
Franti's Power To the Peaceful, and of course last year's
Dave Matthew's Concert.
In a recent conversation with Bob Davis, director of the Entertainment
Commission, he informed me that the famed New York City Summer
handles the sound issue partly by running it's own sound system.
Here in San Francisco, we have 5 different promoters, bringing
in 5 different sound companies, for 5 different events, with very
little accountability (maybe we could look around at some, yep,
you guessed it..."best practices").
I'm obviously not going to solve the Golden Gate sound complaint
problem but one "common sense" suggestion I would offer
is let's try reversing the direction of the stages so that the
sound is directed towards the Pacific Ocean instead of towards
the Haight, NoPNA, and the Inner Richmond.
After one Golden Gate Park event this past summer, The Alice
Now and Zen Festival, some Park neighbors chose another avenue
through which to address their complaints. This time, the complaints
were tied to challenging the revenue which had been made by the
When one wants to put on a special event in California (legally)
then one of the legal ways to sell alcohol is to request a one
day liquor license from the ABC (Alcohol and Beverage Control
run by the Sate of Cali). The catch is that in order to get the
license the event organizer has to "partner" with the
501C3 nonprofit. The nonprofit is supposed to be the financial
beneficiary of whatever income is produced by the alcohol sales
of the event.
One of the many problems with this system is that often the sale
of alcohol is what creates the revenue stream which covers some
of the costs of the event, especially when it's a free event.
Furthermore, the Concert Industry is structurally set up to take
alcohol sales into consideration when an agent works out the financial
compensation for the headline act (There are lots of other factors
which I won't go into in the interest of keeping this piece under
This year, we are facing yet another round of budget cuts. It
seems that more gardeners are being cut every year from the Rec
and Park Budget. Franco Mancini, the President of Friends of McLaren
park, informed me that McLaren Park is down to 1 gardener...FOR
The issue of potential city revenue is a big interest for all
of us who follow the San Francisco Budget process. Could we be
creating more Rec and Park revenue from concert tickets surcharges,
alcohol sale taxes, as well as enforcing Park Permit fees? How
thoroughly are we exploring this?
When is a noise complaint really a noise complaint?
Considering the conservative neighborhood, I never seem to hear
about any sound complaints tied to the Stern Grove Festival? Is
it because there is no "bleeding" of the sound (I doubt
it)? Or does it have something to do with the fact that Festival
organizers seem to keep their musical booking very safe which
means that they usually draw a very "safe" audience?
Would there be more sound complaints if the Stern Grove organizers
booked an event which drew a younger "urban" audience
but at the exact same noise levels?
In the early nineties, I was the permit holder for a 3 time annual
event called "Informal Nation in the Park" (IN-FORM-ALL-NATIONS).
This event was held in the Mission at Potrero del Sol Park, commonly
referred to as La Raza Park. The events were Park and Rec permitted,
included insurance, porto-potties, and every year we left the
park cleaner than the way we found it.
The format of the event was a day-long array of local born and
raised hip hop and reggae dj's. The turnout of the events usually
topped 1500 people. 90% of the 1500 people were probably under
25 and the event was organized by a group of racially diverse
group all of whom were under 25. The audience was mostly native
born and crossed all San Francisco racial lines: latinos, african
americans, samoans, whites, asians, philipinos etc.
Don't we need more safe events like this for city kids? Sounds
pretty cool right? Wrong!
If you've never seen this park and I'm betting that most readers
have not seen it, then what you would find is a gorgeously sculpted
and sloping park, including a built-in stage. I am told that this
park was designed by Latin activists in the 70's who wanted to
create a park for the world famous sounds of the Mission which
at the time included Malo and Santana. The park sits about 150
feet from Hospital Curve and HWY 101, which seems like it would
be a great place for an outdoor summer concert (most of the amplification
blends into the noise from the nearby freeway).
In 1994, after having put the event on for three years, I went
to pull the permits again from Sandy Lee, the R&P permit handler,
she informed me that the Rec and Park Commission had passed a
resolution BANNING all future sound permits for "La Raza
Park." The Commission's decison to ban amplified music was
due to sound complaints. We were never informed that the ban was
even being considered by the Commission.
To me, it only further underlined that we weren't welcome in our
own hometown. It made me wonder if this would have happened to
other "communities" in San Franmcisco? The Commission
decison truly made me want to leave San Francisco.
I would make an unscientific argument that as City property value
continues to rise, so will concert sound complaints. I guess you
could say that this problem isn't going to go away anytime soon.
To a certain degree most of these complaints seem to get "swept
under the rug," however if you consider outdoor concerts
one of the great things about city living then I suggest that
we should start taking these sound complaints a lot more seriously,
or else before you know it, we'll have a ballot intitiative banning
outdoor amplified concerts.
I value and respect the fact that people have decided to file
sound complaints. I also value the fact that public events draw
thousands of people who want to enjoy the summer weather and listen
to a diverse array of fantastic music.
However, what I would value even more would be a public process
through which a variety of neighbors (both pro and con), event
organizers, Rec and Park officials, Youth Commission members,
ABC representatives, as well as sound specialists could sit down
and develop a format for public events which included all perspectives.
Michael O'Connor is the co-owner of The Independent, a small
in San Francisco. He also serves on the San Francisco Small Business
Commission...and he likes to eat burritos. Email Michael O'Connor
Ammiano plans taxation without representation
December 5, 2005
With the holiday season upon us I think that the
greater majority of us live in San Francisco because we value
the history and legacy of social consciousness and social justice.
It is not always an easy city to live in and sometimes it seems
to get more and more difficult, but nevertheless, we persevere
and we stay committed to the City.
Over the last five years we have seen the price
of property in this city skyrocket to often unbelievable proportions.
Is everyone a millionaire with money to burn? I think a small
percentage may be, but I am pretty sure that the majority of people
that are running small businesses like bars, laundromats, clothing
stores, moving companies, contractors, restaurants, startups,
clubs, and cafes... are not.
The day before Thanksgiving, District 9 Supervisor
Ammiano announced a plan to development legislation which
would make it mandatory for small businesses (with more than 20
employees) to provide health insurance for their employees, even
those employees working part-time.
In theory I think this is a fantastic idea. In fact,
why didn't someone think of this about 100 years ago?
The issue of Universal Healthcare is probably one
the key issues of our times. I sincerely commend those that have
dedicated themselves to this issue and are using their creativity
to navigate through the uncharted territories of a potential Universal
Healthcare system. I have even heard former President Bill Clinton
admit that failing to create universal healthcare coverage was
his biggest regret during his eight years as president.
To be honest, I had heard faint rumors that Supervisor
Ammiano was thinking about something like this but it never occurred
to me that it would be presented to the general public in this
fashion. With all respect due to the historical significance of
Supervisor Ammiano's legacy as a legislator in San Francisco,
this is frankly modern day version of "taxation without representation."
I know for a fact that the legislative idea never came before
the Small Business Commission.
Would we enact new citywide zoning measure without
going to the Planning Commission?
Would we create a new city police policy to deal
with extreme crowd control without presenting it to the Police
San Francisco electeds have come a long way towards
creating legislation that is Democratic in its intent and in its
development. There is an ever-growing degree of "community
involvement" which permeates the legislative process. There
is also something that Supervisor Ammiano helped to spearhead
called the Sunshine Ordinance. The Sunshine Rules and the "Community
Process" may be frustrating and they may sometimes slow down
legislation but quite frankly, I think in the end we benefit from
a process that emphasizes inclusion, as opposed to exclusion.
In addition to my problems with the lack of community
involvement, I think to a certain degree this proposal would fall
under the category of being a "regressive-tax." Forgive
my possible misuse of the term "regressive," but what
I really mean is that this form of legislation proposed will undoubtedly
lead to significant job layoffs. If I was running a business which
employed 26 people and I was struggling to cover costs as it was,
then I would have no choice but to pare down my staff down to
19. This is not some far fetched threat...this is real. This weekend,
I met with one relatively modest neighborhood business owner who
said that if this passes he will close his restaurant which has
served the Clement Street area for almost 10 years.
Right about now, we need ideas for job creation,
not job loss.
Over the last couple of months, I have been attending
a variety of community meetings related to crime and violence
in the Western Addition. The ultimate message of EVERY community
meeting is, "Where are the Jobs?" Another question which
ALWAYS comes up is, "What possibilities are there for teenagers
during the summer months?"
I don't think we are doing enough as a city and
as a collection of small businesses, to create and provide jobs
for our own-native born youth. This upcoming summer, I will be
contributing, as the chair, for the Department of Children, Youth,
and Family's Summer Youth Employment program. It is pivotal that
small business volunteer to play a larger role in the creation
of summer youth employment. I am of the opinion that summer internships
are a significant component of a comprehensive strategy for combating
the structural challenges which face so many of our own "Frisco
I don't think you can discuss one social epidemic
without looking how It's solution relates directly or indirectly
to another. It's not my intent to use "street violence"
as a shield to deflect attention away from Small Business paying
more "taxes" (which theoretically could or could not
go to youth programming). It is my intention to use the C Word...
If we are serious about trying to solve the Health
care problem then we need to be more comprehensive....and if we
are trying to reduce the chances that city kids are going to use
a gun instead of a computer, then we also need to be more comprehensive...and
I think it's safe to say that most San Francisco
Small Business owners care greatly about their employees, many
of whom are also our "co-workers." Many of us do live
in the City. Many of us have an interest in Civic responsibility.
I believe that while it is important to raise questions about
the Health Care legislation as it has been presented, it is also
important to ask ourselves, "What is the possibility of crafting
a realistic Worker's Health Plan?"
I am disturbed by the fact that Supervisor Ammiano
failed to reach out to the Small Business Community, but I am
intrigued by the questions which this legislation idea raises.
Is there a way to craft a potential Workers Health plan for small
business workers in San Francisco? If there is, it will have to
be created by a "community process."
Michael O'Connor is the co-owner of The Independent,
a small business
in San Francisco. He also serves on the San Francisco Small Business
Commission...and he likes to eat burritos. Email Michael O'Connor
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