Burning Man was canceled this year, but many people celebrated the arts and lifestyle festival in San Francisco. (Courtesy John F. Martin/Oakland Museum of California)

Supe calls for investigation into Burning Man festivities at Ocean Beach

Multiple events drew crowds over Labor Day Weekend

A San Francisco supervisor is calling for an investigation into promoters who organized a Burning Man-themed gathering that is believed to have drawn more than 1,000 people to Ocean Beach over the holiday weekend in alleged violation of local health regulations.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani urged City Attorney Dennis Herrera and District Attorney Chesa Boudin on Tuesday to pursue civil or criminal penalties against the promoters who facilitated the party despite San Francisco prohibiting outdoor gatherings of more than 12 people.

“It is manifestly unfair to require that our small businesses shoulder the burden of this pandemic, when the actions of a few careless individuals are exacerbating it,” Stefani said in a statement. “Those responsible for this event should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, and I hope to see swift action from our city attorney and district attorney to this effect.”

While the crowds at the beach appeared to include multiple groups honoring Burning Man on the weekend the festival is usually celebrated in Nevada, Stefani called out one group who advertised an “SF Burning Man Party” at Ocean Beach, without naming the promoters specifically.

An online ad for the event, hosted by The Collective Conscious and Trap Home Productions, offered a 10-hour line-up of artists beginning Saturday at noon. “We will be vibing at Bay 17 by the Ocean Beach, SF firepits for the 3rd Saturday in a row,” the organizers wrote.

A Facebook page for the event showed more than 300 interested in going and more than 100 as having attended as of Tuesday.

The Collective Conscious did not return an email seeking comment. Attempts to locate contact information for Trap Home Productions were not successful.

A police spokesperson said an estimated 2,000 people were gathered “around bonfires and a large bus playing loud music directed by a disc jockey” when officers arrived at the Ocean Beach parking lot at around 11:39 p.m. Saturday.

The gathering came amid a heat wave that drew crowds to the beach over the Labor Day weekend and wildfires that prompted a Spare the Air alert banning wood burning in the Bay Area.

The festivities sparked outrage on social media when Mayor London Breed tweeted Sunday morning that more than 1,000 had gathered on Ocean Beach to celebrate Burning Man on Saturday night. The mayor closed the beach parking lot in response.

“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.”

However, at least one person who went to the beach that night later pushed back on the mayor’s characterization of the gathering and her estimate of the crowd size, telling the San Francisco Examiner that most of the attendees were practicing social distancing.

Photos and videos from Saturday showed people playing music and dancing in the parking lot at Ocean Beach while others gathered on the sand to burn an effigy of a man. Some people, but not everyone, appeared to be wearing a mask.

One group that reportedly blared music at the gathering from a school bus, called BAAHS, took responsibility for not stopping the party in a statement to the news site 48 Hills.

“Although we were far from the only party at the beach and we were taking active measures to mitigate risks, it was stupid and I apologize,” the group’s founder said.

Officer Tiffany Hang, a police spokesperson, told the Examiner officers witnessed the crowd when they responded to the scene “regarding a large gathering of people without face masks playing loud music.”

“Officers approached the DJ to shut the music down, who complied,” Hang said. “Officers facilitated in shutting down the unsanctioned event and urging individuals to safely leave the area.”

A man and woman were found unconscious and taken to the hospital, Hang said.

The organizers behind the actual Burning Man festival canceled the event this year because of COVID-19 and in a tweet on Sunday night urged “everyone to refrain from gathering unsafely in large groups, maintain public health, and respect local, state, and federal guidelines.”

Spokespersons for Herrera and Boudin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Herrera has previously worked with the San Francisco Police Department to shut down two underground nightclubs in the Bayview that were open during the pandemic in apparent violation of The City’s public health order.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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