The San Francisco International Arts Festival will present performances this weekend outdoors at Fort Mason, including on the Parade Ground, Eucalyptus Grove and Black Point Battery. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The San Francisco International Arts Festival will present performances this weekend outdoors at Fort Mason, including on the Parade Ground, Eucalyptus Grove and Black Point Battery. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF International Arts Festival wins health department approval for weekend performances

Rules allow no more than 50 people at outdoor Fort Mason performances

The San Francisco International Arts Festival, which sued The City after being denied a permit on public health grounds, appears set to go on outdoors at Fort Mason this weekend.

In a letter to festival attorneys sent Friday, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and deputy attorney Tara Steeley wrote, “San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón has reviewed the plans you submitted via email this morning at 9:11 and 9:49 a.m., and agrees that the plans comply with the requirements he set for the festival that is to take place on Oct. 24-25, 2020 at Fort Mason.”

The permit for the event will be issued through the National Park Service, since the event will take place at Fort Mason, but the Park Service had held off on agreeing to the event without buy-in from the local health officer. As of Friday morning, a Park Service spokesman said the agency was in the process of negotiating the permit.

Earlier this week, the festival filed a lawsuit in federal court against San Francisco, asking it to find that pandemic-era public health orders permitting outdoor gatherings for political protest or religious services should also apply to the arts.

At an online hearing Thursday morning, Northern District of California Judge James Donato asked the parties to the case — Matt Kumin, attorney for the festival, and Steeley of the City Attorney’s Office, representing Mayor London Breed and Aragón – to work on a settlement.

During the Zoom meeting, Donato tried to ascertain whether the festival would comply with ever-changing public safety rules governing gatherings. Taking into account The City’s guidelines, he focused on the number of people that could be on site at any given time during the day-long event.

Steeley said the festival’s proposal to The City, as well as National Park Service, which operates Fort Mason, did not comply with health standards, in part because it included concurrent events. But Kumin said the festival recently updated its proposed protocols so that the event would meet the health code, and would agree to avoiding simultaneous events.

“The City’s Health Officer approved the revised plan for the San Francisco International Art Festival, subject to strict safety requirements, after the City learned for the first time in the Thursday court hearing about changes SFIAFF was planning to make for the events this weekend,” said John Cote a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office. “The safety requirements are consistent with the new interim guidance that the State issued the day before the hearing.”

The safety requirements approved by the Health Officer for the event include limiting audience size and requiring face coverings and distancing for performers, audience members and staff, advance ticket sales and no food or beverage service.

Cote said those requirements will form the basis for protocols for similar events generally, now that the state guidance has ben updated.

Kumin, the festival’s attorney, said, “We prevailed and we struck a blow for the community and working artists and citizens; the government was dismissive of my client and legitimate artists’ concerns.”

Andrew Wood, festival director, has said he worked for months with artists and the community to set up protocols to ensure that performers and audiences in groups of up to 49 people could safely participate and attend the music, dance and theater event in Fort Mason’s upper meadow off Bay Street.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional comment from the City Attorney’s Office.

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