City stuck with expensive torch tab

Although city officials are relieved that the Olympic torch relay passed through The City without any major incidents of violence, the international event left something behind: a $610,000 tab — not counting police costs — only half of which has been provided by donors.

Since its lighting in Greece on March 24, the torch has been a magnet for controversy withgroups worldwide turning out at scheduled relay stops to protest China’s human-rights abuses. In The City on Wednesday, thousands turned out along The Embarcadero in support and protest, but threatening crowds led officials to create a new route down Van Ness Avenue toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

The skirmishes in Paris and London and a resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors calling on city representatives to receive the torch with “alarm and protest” have challenged fundraising efforts, Mayor Gavin Newsom said.

Newsom said he has been working the phones trying to bring in corporations to help foot the bill to cover the ceremonies, receptions for the torchbearers, banners and media relations for the event. None of the money raised would compensate The City for costs associated with the relay such as overtime for police officers working the torch route.

“I swear to God I’m trying,” Newsom said. “You can imagine all these corporations saying, ‘Hey, mayor, OK, can I put my name associated with that? Not a chance. Thanks for calling.’”

To date, $342,350 has been raised by the relay’s task force. Former Mayor Willie Brown, Chamber of Commerce President Steve Falk, Giants Executive Vice President Larry Baer and San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau President Joe D’Allesandro, have also been working to raise the money, according to the Mayor’s Office.

The mayor also said he breathed a sigh of relief when the Olympic flame was put on a plane for Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday night, and while standing by the decision to change the route, admitted that he was “disappointed” with the relay.

“We avoided disaster, but organizationally it was very confusing and left a lot of people wanting,” Newsom said.

Relay officials were criticized for the change and some questioned how long the change had been in the works. Newsom and others maintain the decision was made at 1 p.m. as the relay was set to begin.

Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said it was going to request city documents in an attempt to “find out the details of what happened and what people new and when they knew it,” staff attorney Michael Risher said.

dsmith@examiner.com

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