Editorial: City’s street fairs being priced out

San Francisco’s war against fun has opened up a new front with an onslaught of exploding city fees on the heavily attended street fairs.

The latest barrage is from Muni, which could vote Sept. 16 to triple its hourly $6.31-per-bus rerouting fee to $20 over three years.

On Aug. 1, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency already doubled its street-closure permit fees to as high as $750; depending on how much advance notice is provided.

Organizers of The City’s nonprofit community street festivals are complaining that the continued existence of their annual warm-weather events is being placed in jeopardy by the recent ballooning of municipal charges — for everything from loudspeaker permits to trash cleanup.

Attendance has tripled at the 9-year-old How Weird Street Faire, but founder Brad Olsen laments that city fees have expanded tenfold. Police-protection charges for the crafts festival on Howard Street held steady at $5,000 for the first seven years, but jumped to $7,676 last year and increased again to $9,000 this May.

When an outdoor event interrupts electric-bus or light-rail lines, Muni must temporarily substitute those carriers with its diesel buses, which can be detoured around the festivities. Muni claims that providing this service actually costs $31 per hour per bus and the rerouting fee has not been raised since 1988. Therefore, even the proposed three-year phased increase to $20 would still not fully reimburse the public transit agency.

The Pink Saturday pre-LGBT Pride street party organizers pay Muni $2,129 for a one-evening Castro event attended by more than 100,000. The two-day Fillmore Street Fair is charged a $6,150 bus-rerouting fee. On the other hand, the one-day Cole Valley Festival pays only $860 and the Union Street Fair is charged $2,434 for two days. It all depends on how many routes must be detoured and whether those routes operate off electric cables.

The Examiner understands that San Francisco and all city departments are operating in a particularly burdensome deficit climate, and we empathize with their need to responsibly raise additional revenue. But at the same time, there has to be some practical accommodation available when fee increases from virtually every municipal agency are simultaneously falling upon one potential cash source.

Relief becomes especially important when multiple higher fees are targeting nonprofit community events that aid small business, raise money for charity and add to the distinctive quality of city life by providing low-cost enjoyment for hundreds of thousands of
participants.

One of the significant legacies left by Harvey Milk is the San Francisco Street Fair Ordinance, which established a straightforward process for making ambitious neighborhood festivities legitimately qualified for city cooperation. This principle deserves protection.

The City would be a duller place without its active calendar of street fairs.

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