New rules brewing for festival drinking

A new plan aimed at keeping a lid on alcohol consumption at the North Beach Festival will come before The City’s park commissioners Thursday, but some neighbors still find the idea of drinking in Washington Square tough to swallow.

The festival was originally held on city streets, but migrated to the park in the late 1990s, drawing the ire of neighbors — calling themselves the Friends of Washington Square — who see the park as the neighborhood’s backyard.

Two years ago, complaints from the neighborhood residents nearly resulted in a ban against in-park drinking at the festival; city leaders, however, reached a compromise and erected diagonal barricades across the square that allowed drinking only on one side of the park, according to Marsha Garland, festival organizer and director of the North Beach Chamber of Commerce.

“Nobody was happy. That was a mess,” said neighbor Herb Kosovitz, a member of the Friends of Washington Square Park group.

Because so many families come to the North Beach Festival with children, bisecting the park “was very hard to police and control,” Garland said.

Under a new plan, alcohol would be sold in an enclosed area on Union Street, and Washington Square will turn into a barricaded, all-ages “beer garden,” according to department spokeswoman Rose Dennis.

Other options include keeping the liquor sales within Washington Square and moving the food vendors on to Union Street or keeping the old configuration, according to a Recreation and Park department report from Sandy Lee, supervisor for permits and reservations.

In addition to the limits on drinking within the festival grounds, hired security teams and police will do what they can to make sure patrons don’t bring in their own booze, Garland said.

San Francisco police Capt. James Dudley of the Central Station said controlling the flow of alcohol was “difficult to enforce.”

“I think event security would [search people’s bags], but there are hip-level barricades and, frankly, open containers, cans and bottles can just be handed over,” Dudley said.

North Beach businesses rely on the festival — which is expected to draw up to 100,000 people June 14 and 15 — to keep their revenues in the black, Garland said, estimating the cost of the event at $250,000.

Nonetheless, the Friends of Washington Square would still like the city to move alcohol out of the park entirely, according to Kosovitz.

“It’s disturbing when we have a nice green park and these commercial events come in and mess up our park,” he said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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