Busker, panhandler ban will come before BART board in October

It’s official: BART board director Debora Allen introduced her panhandler and busker ban to the BART Board of Directors on Thursday.

The matter will officially be heard by the board in October, she told reporters outside the BART board meeting in Oakland.

BART riders frequently encounter rappers, groups of turf dancers displaying acrobatics and other performers soliciting tips, as well as impoverished people simply asking for help. Videos of such performances are often shared by joyous riders on social media.

Allen isn’t against such musical interludes at BART, she said Thursday. She just doesn’t want to see them happen anywhere past BART’s fare gates, where riders may feel they have no choice but to listen to performers. Stations? Sure. On station platforms and aboard trains? Nope.

“It’s not the right forum for it,” Allen told reporters. “I don’t object to their performing, some are quite good. They should be outside the fare gates.”

Ahead of the BART board meeting Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California warned Allen and the BART board that such a ban may be a restriction on free speech and therefore “unconstitutional,” and would potentially open BART to “issues” like those faced in other cities — namely lawsuits.

“Last year we sued the city of Sacramento” after they introduced an anti-panhandling ordinance, Abre’ Conner, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California told the BART board Thursday morning.

After the meeting, Allen told reporters she wasn’t worried.

BART’s own legal team would evaluate any constitutional issues while developing the policy leading into October, Allen said, Thursday.

“First Amendment — let’s talk about it, right?” she said outside Thursday’s BART board meeting.

BART Chief Legal Counsel Matt Burrows told the board Thursday, “We in the legal department are well aware of those issues. That will all be thought about.”

The proposal already drew backlash from San Francisco personalities and BART riders. Sister Roma, of the radical drag queen nunnery the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, tweeted Thursday “NO!! @SFBART Please do NOT ban performers or busking on BART. I love it when they pump up the music and dance! Those guys make my ride more enjoyable and entertaining.”

And Matt Haney, who represents neighborhoods like downtown where BART stations in San Francisco on the Board of Supervisors, critiqued the proposal as well.

“No one is forced to give anything if they don’t want to,” Haney wrote on Facebook. “What a sterile, boring place we would live if people couldn’t express themselves in public spaces. It’s a tradition and profession found in every society. So much of that music and art, hip hop, this is how it started.”

When asked if she herself had ever given money to a busker or performer onboard BART, Allen answered simply: “No.”

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