Juggling for space at Fisherman’s Wharf

Musicians, magicians, mimes and other street entertainers are battling over the prime performance spots at Fisherman’s Wharf, propelling city officials to propose a program that would give entertainers willing to pay a fee of $50 a month priority placement.

In the works for several years, the Port of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf Street Performer Program has been presented to various city agencies, as well as some street performers, in recent months. It will be presented to the Port Commission on Sept. 11. If approved, the Port will conduct a three-month pilot program starting Oct. 1. The plan is to have a finalized program before the visitor season begins next spring, according to Katharine Arrow, a senior property manager for the Port.

“As it stands, it is anarchy,” SFPD Capt. James Dudley wrote to The Examiner in an e-mail. In addition to fighting over the best locations, Dudley said performers were also responsible for aggressive panhandling, illegal vending, card game and fortune telling scams.

“As it stands now, a lot of my officers, that I have asked to clean up the wharf of these nuisances, are exposed to numerous complaints by musicians and performers claiming disparate treatment,” Dudley said. The Port is proposing a $50 monthly permit for street entertainers, which would make them eligible for a lottery that would determine who could use one of eight designated Fisherman’s Wharf performance spots on the waterfront side of Jefferson Street.

Two-thirds of the slots would be available to the permit holders — the other third would be left open to all performers on the same first-come, first-served basis that exists.

Many street entertainers on Fisherman’s Wharf interviewed by The Examiner on Tuesday said the prime locations —in particular the circle at Powell and Jefferson streets — were frequently monopolized by a few. A permit program was not the answer, they said.

“It’s too many restrictions for the people who are trying to do it the right way, and not enough restrictions for people who are doing it the wrong way,” said clown Kenneth Kahn. He said he can make from $10 to $200 a day depending on the location of his act.

Carlos Benjamin, working as a gold-painted statue at the coveted Powell Street circle, denied any turf problems.

beslinger@examiner.com


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