San Francisco regulations irk elderly Chinatown musicians

An ensemble of elderly Chinese musicians that entertains Chinatown neighbors with violins, dulcimers and butterfly harps had a physical altercation with a city employee who tried to shut the group down for performing without a permit this week.

The performers range in age from their 50s to 70s and number up to 20. For the past two years, they have played their amplified wind and string instruments at Portsmouth Square on weekends.

But when they violated their city permit agreement by performing Monday instead of Sunday to avoid festivities related to the Lunar New Year, a custodial supervisor tried to quiet the concert.

“The seniors got really mad,” said resident Wilma Pang, who acquired the city permit for the band because its members have a hard time understanding the process due to language barriers.

Then the altercation turned violent, Pang said.

“He came around harassing,” she said of the supervisor. “They tried to push him.”

The supervisor — whom Recreation and Park Department spokesman Elton Pon could only identify by his first name, Cliff — apparently escaped the hostile run-in without serious injury.

However, park officials said Cliff showed up to work Tuesday wearing a wrist brace.

Rec and Park officials had previously cut a deal with the musicians allowing them to perform for free on Sundays unless there is another event that applied to perform in the same location.

The scuffle Monday was not the first time the band has run afoul of its arrangement, Pon said.

On Jan. 9, when Pang was not in town to obtain a permit but the ensemble went ahead and performed anyway, the same supervisor called the park patrol. City officials ultimately ended up taking the group’s singer, Peiling Zhao, to a police station and cited her for performing without a permit.

Nonetheless, Rec and Park officials still would like the musicians to continue using the park, Pon said. But they will need to fine-tune their manners.

“We’re going to reach out to the group and try to shepherd them through the permit process and have them understand what the ultimate goal is for having a shared and a good park experience for everyone,” Pon said.


Making noise? Better obtain a city permit

Entertainers who want to play amplified music in The City’s open spaces must apply for a permit through the Recreation and Park Department.

  • Chinatown musicians: Negotiated free permit
  • Amateur production: $150
  • Nonprofit production: $250
  • Commercial production: $500

Source: Recreation and Park Department

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