Performers happy to pay for their soap box

A permit process finalized recently has many of the quirky Fisherman’s Wharf street performers in rare harmony with city officials.

After a successful pilot program, the Port of San Francisco has adopted guidelines that allow the musicians, jugglers, mimes, clowns and other performers who flavor the wharf to entertain tourists without being harassed by police or bullying competitors. For $50 a month, the Port manages the time and place for performances, and essentially permits entertainers to sell merchandise such as CDs.

Now, dozens of performers — from clown Betty Buttons to the New Life Christian Church — are scheduled to work 12 of the more coveted corners around Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. Saxophonist Stephen Dreyfuss had spent years trying to clarify The City’s policies after what he calls the “concerted and nonstop crackdown on street performers.”

Police were ticketing Dreyfuss and others for three main infractions: blocking the sidewalks, using sound-amplifying equipment and selling CDs without a permit, but Dreyfuss said the citations, sometimes more than $200, would always be thrown out by the commissioner hearing the case in traffic court. Now, instead of heading to the Hall of Justice to fight his tickets, Dreyfuss spends his time blowing on his horn.

“Essentially, we performers, especially musicians, get the police off our backs. There are people who want to see this all over San Francisco,” Dreyfuss said.

Though the Police Department supports the program, the process is handled by thePort, and is only valid on Port property.

In other prime areas, street performers such as Larry “Bucket Man” Hunt will have to continue banging away without the blessing of The City. Hunt recently had to fight $1,000 in tickets for blocking the sidewalk near Ellis and Market streets, where he has been drumming on a set of buckets and pots for more than a decade.

Much like Dreyfuss, Hunt’s four citations were recently thrown out of court because the commissioner said there was no merit to the charges.

But police aren’t trying to infringe on performers’ First Amendment rights, according to police spokesman Sgt. Steve Mannina. Officers are only out to watch for violations of the law, which include blocking the sidewalk, aggressive panhandling, illegal vending, card-game and fortune-telling scams.

bbegin@examiner.com

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