Organizers call off jazz festival after losing liquor license

The North Beach Jazz Festival will be canceled this year, organizers said Tuesday.

The decision to cancel the festival, which has drawn thousands of people from across the country for the last 13 years to Washington Square to hear prominent jazz musicians, came after the Recreation and Park Commission ruled to not issue organizers a license to sell alcohol in the park.

The decision will cost the festival between $20,000 and $40,000, a price tag too heavy to bear, according to organizers.

The commission also denied an appeal to overturn the prohibition of alcohol sales in the park for the North Beach Festival, which takes place six weeks before the jazz festival. They said both decisions were based on neighbors’ complaints and security concerns, as crime becomes a bigger problem in North Beach.

A divided neighborhood came out to speak their minds before the commission on Tuesday. An overflowing, and at times emotional, crowd strongly disagreed with the commission, as speaker after speaker voiced their support for both festivals — calling the decision a conspiracy by a few neighbors to not share the park.

“I suggest if people have a problem with the noise and fun and this amazing thing maybe they should not live in The City and move to the suburbs or Montana and watch squirrels or go sing kumbaya,” said John Miles, one of the producers of the jazz festival.

Marsha Garland, the executive director of the North Beach Chamber of Commerce and the main organizer behind the North Beach Festival, told the commission that the reports of drunken criminals at the event were overblown and only four people were arrested last year. Garland plans to sue to have the decision overturned.

Despite the prohibition, the North Beach Festival will continue because it is not as dependent on alcohol sales in the park. The festival will continue to have beer gardens on the adjacent streets.

Garland said alcohol sales in the park make up about 25 percent of her $260,000 budget for the event adding, “there is not a huge profit margin in events, so 25 percent is a huge hit.”

Jazz festival organizers said beer gardens, similar to the ones used at the North Beach Festival, would not work for their event, which has always been confined to the park.

Commissioner John Murray tried to work with the community and find alternative-funding sources for the jazz festival after organizers told him a prohibition would kill the event. In one day he secured a $5,000 grant but said ultimately the decision to prohibit alcohol sales in the park was based partly on a request from an already thin Police Department.

“What has changed over 14 years [of the event] is the police’s patrol of alcohol,” he told the audience, who wanted to know why the commission was making the decision now. “They want beer gardens and they want to ID in and out.”

sfarooq@examiner.com

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