For decades, The City has absorbed the cost to police traditional San Francisco events such as the Union Street Festival.
But with The City facing a huge deficit and the budget for officer overtime continuing to shrink, the Police Department will re-evaluate events that historically have received policing on the cheap and, in some cases, will ask for full reimbursement.
For those events, that can mean a difference between spending a few thousand dollars to have a police presence and spending tens of thousands — an increase that, in some cases, could threaten to shut down the event.
“If we had to pay full-cost recovery, we probably wouldn’t be able to produce the event,” said Steven Restivo, who produces the 33-year-old Union Street Festival.
But full-cost recovery is exactly what Northern Police Station Capt. Ann Mannix said she will be looking for from the event.
She said the department has “no budget for overtime,” so it must “be creative” about recovering costs. Mannix said particularly events that sell alcohol will be re-evaluated, since policing events where booze is free-flowing requires many more city services.
“Alcohol is a big factor,” she said.
For decades, San Francisco essentially absorbed all costs of covering cultural events, subscribing to the theory that the economic impact of the tens or hundreds of thousands of people an event brought to The City would offset the cost to police it.
Starting in 1996, The City began requiring events to pay the full cost of police presence — with the exception of protests and parades, which are protected by the First Amendment. However, most traditional events — those that existed prior to 1996 — were essentially grandfathered in and continued to pay a reduced rate.
Though the Police Department declined to provide a list of events it may require to provide full-cost recovery for, Officer Boaz Mariles said the department is “looking at all revenue sources and cost recovery,” particularly costs “related to special events.”
This doesn’t sit well with organizers like Demitri Moshoyannis, whose nonprofit organization runs the Folsom Street Fair. He said an increase in fees from The City would cut into the amount of donations he’s able to provide to charities after each event.
“I understand that everybody needs to balance their budget, but doing it on the backs of street fairs might not be the best way,” Moshoyannis said.
Event’s reduced policing costs allow for charitable donations
The Folsom Street Fair counts among the events that had, until now, been grandfathered in as a “traditional” cultural event. However, that could change if The City begins attempting to charge events for the full cost of police services.
Folsom Street Events producer Demitri Moshoyannis runs the Folsom Street Fair and the Up Your Alley Fair. He noted that even though Folsom attracts more than 250,000 attendees — 20 times that of Up Your Alley — he currently pays The City less for policing Folsom than Up Your Alley, thanks to the policy allowing “traditional” events to pay only a portion of the policing costs.
Moshoyannis said the Folsom Street Fair donates all profits to community groups in exchange for volunteer security work at the event, and if it’s required to pay the full cost for policing, the festival would “radically” change.
“I’m not sure we could operate the same way at all,” he said. “If we can’t afford to give those charity checks, we won’t get volunteers. And without volunteers, we don’t have a fair. It would radically alter how we have to do our events.”
— Katie Worth
City festivals facing full fees
San Francisco events being considered on a case-by-case basis for a hike in police charges:
- Flower Market Fair
- Vietnamese Tet Festival
- Chinese Community Fair
- Union Street Easter celebration
- Union Street Festival
- Cherry Blossom Festival
- Haight Street Fair
- Fiesta Filipina
- North Beach Festival
- Pink Saturday
- San Francisco Pride
- Fillmore Street Jazz Festival
- Up Your Alley Fair
- Nihonmachi Street Fair
- Chinatown Moon Festival
- Folsom Street Fair
- Castro Street Fair
Source: San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency