A group of people gathered at Ocean Beach Saturday night for what city officials described as a large Burning Man event. At least one person who was there, however, said that there were actually several smaller events, only some of which involved Burning Man participants and none of which were formally affiliated with the organization. (Photo courtesy Sean F.)

Ocean Beach parking lots closed after ‘Burning Man’ event

Mayor Breed calls gathering ‘absolutely reckless and selfish’

San Francisco officials closed the parking lots at Ocean Beach Sunday after a large group gathered there Saturday night for what they described as a “Burning Man” event.

Mayor London Breed announced the closure on Twitter Sunday morning, saying that more than 1,000 people had attended and there were reports some would return Sunday night.

“This was absolutely reckless and selfish,” Breed said. “You are not celebrating. You are putting people’s lives at risk. You are putting our progress at risk. No one is immune from spreading the virus,” she said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.

(Photo courtesy Sean F.)

However Sean F., a former San Francisco resident and Burning Man attendee who was at the beach Saturday night, said there was no formal Burning Man event at Ocean Beach or any single large event, but rather a number of smaller, informal gatherings, only a small number of which involved “burners.” He also questioned the crowd size estimate given by The City.

On the beach itself, “maybe 100” people were gathered in groups around the popular fire pits, as they do nearly every weekend, a perimeter was set up for safety and people largely stayed with those they came with, Sean said. He argued there are often more people out on the beach on other nights and on busy weekend days.

“We’re outside, most people are pretty distanced from each other, and it wasn’t that many people by the end of the night,” he said.

Sean said his group burned a figure of a man in the fire pit itself.

(Photo courtesy Sean F.)

In the parking lot there was a bus with a large sound system and a DJ where another group of “maybe another 100 maximum gathered,” most of them wearing masks, Sean said. He acknowledged that there was probably more risk of COVID-19 exposure at that event.

Police and park rangers were aware of the crowds and the music, but didn’t start ticketing vehicles in the parking lot until around 10 p.m., Sean said. They did not tell the bus with the sound system to shut down until around 1 a.m., when things had largely wound down, he noted.

Those affiliated with Burning Man packed their trash out of the beach, he said; some also worked cleanup crew out at the beach on Sunday and planned to do so again on Monday. He took offense at those who “stigmatized” burners as messy or irresponsible.

(Photo courtesy Sean F.)

“The vast amount of trash out there is just from beach goers,” he said.

Ultimately, he found The City’s response “hypocritical” given that it has facilitated large protests and other events in recent months — although he noted that he supported the Black Lives Matter protests.

“You could overhear many say ‘this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in San Francisco’ or ‘this is the happiest moment for me in 2020,’” Sean said in an email to The Examiner.

“People needed inspiration and some joy. You can’t keep a population home and say stay safe — and give no end date. People lose hope like this. You have to provide a release and help people do so safely,” he said. “A group did that last night. Successfully.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

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