Tuesday, June 1, 2010

B2B at 100: "It's A Matter of Civic Pride and Safety" by NOPNA President Jarie Bolander

B2B: The race isn't the problem Photo: Michael Helquist

Only early birds drinking coffee saw these racers on Fell Street Photo: Michael Helquist

Editor's Note: This post begins a series about neighborhood efforts to reclaim Bay to Breakers as a foot race and party that San Franciscans can support and celebrate for all the edgy, quirky, and fabulous things it has represented for most of its 99 year history. BIKE NOPA is pleased to have Jarie Bolander, president of the North of the Panhandle Neighborhood Association (NOPNA), begin the discussion with this guest contribution.

This year's Bay to Breakers left several neighborhoods abused in its wake. The damage was felt particularly in the North Panhandle. NoPa residents (including home-owners, renters, guests, and friends) had to resort to defending their homes from hordes of drunken, obnoxious, and often violent revelers. The bad behavior seriously disrupted the sense of personal safety and the good will that usually prevail on our blocks. During several hours of binge drinking, the unruly crowd took the liberty of depositing the contents of their bladders and bowels on anything and everything. Most neighbors were unsuccessful in stopping this madness. When they tried, they were verbally abused and sometimes physically assaulted. The disrespect and confrontation that played out on our blocks tears at the very social fabric that binds a civilized community. As a San Franciscan and community leader, it makes me nauseous to see how this cherished tradition as been damaged.

To understand better how this year's Bay to Breakers affected NoPa, our neighborhood association convened a community meeting four days after the race to voice their experiences with the event. Fifty residents attended along with B2B representatives. Everyone felt that this year's race was the worst in recent memory. Of particular note was the spillover onto the north/south blocks between Hayes and Fell, especially on Broderick and along four blocks of Hayes. Residents complained of a raucous and dangerous frat party atmosphere that left many feeling the situation was combustible.

NOPNA also encouraged neighbors to complete a survey with their reactions to what happened on our blocks. More than 100 did so. The responses were similar to those expressed at the NOPNA meeting: people who live on or adjacent to the race route felt threatened, defenseless, scared, and abandoned. Many now feel that the event has become a public health hazard and a tinderbox just waiting for a spark.

Clearly, something must change. Now that ING has dropped out as an event sponsor, it is more important than ever that all stakeholders come together to ensure that the fun and sport of the race do not once again get overwhelmed by what becomes, in effect, a city-sanctioned drunken mob scene. It's obvious that some race stakeholders assume more of the burden and receive less of the bounty than others. Bay to Breakers is a boon for hotels, restaurants, and liquor stores, but its a bust for residents on or near the route. This inequality must be rectified.

NOPNA feels strongly that planning must start now to ensure that the Centennial Year for Bay to Breakers returns to its roots as a fun-for-everyone event. To this end, NOPNA proposes the following ideas as a starting point of discussion:
  • Create a citywide Bay to Breakers task force that brings together all stakeholders (residents, race officials, runners/racers, the police and fire departments, City Hall, local businesses, and corporate sponsors)
  • San Franciscans should agree that this is a citywide issue, not one just for a few neighborhoods or District 5. The mayor and all the supervisors must engage the issue, and the Mayor's Office must provide leadership
  • Make all alcohol tax revenue on the day of the race go to clean-up efforts and to non-profits
  • Limit the time period of the race and party to 2-3 hours and then close the race and open Fell Street to vehicle traffic
  • Consider splitting the event into a race and a festival with the latter sponsored by the city
  • Punish inappropriate behavior by enforcing laws to weed out the hooligans; make the police involvement more than a presence with a vigorous effort to cite individuals and intervene in altercations
  • Make the race day an emergency preparedness drill day so that emergency service can practice controlling large crowds of people
  • Enable neighborhoods to guide resources where they are needed most by creating B2B "responsibility zones" so that locals can get rapid responses to dangerous or illegal disruptions
Bay to Breakers is an iconic San Francisco tradition that should celebrate our uniqueness not our sleaziness. No one wants to see what happened to Halloween in the Castro (closed down because of dangerous, violent behavior) happen to Bay to Breakers. As San Franciscans we can come together to ensure that the Centennial event next year returns to its celebration of the uniqueness of our city that everyone can be part of. If you share my commitment to return Bay to Breakers to a spirit of camaraderie and cooperation, get involved with the planning process. Urge the mayor's office to establish a task force and participate in the discussion and planning. NOPNA will provide updates* about its involvement on its website at nopna.org .

*Editor's Note: See other articles in the B2B at 100 series here.


  1. I think the troubles reflect a larger cultural and social change and present more than just a police problem, or organization problem or planning problem. Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. Everything reaches a zenith, followed by a decline. The Bay to Breakers is something whose time has come and gone. Let's not cling to it. Think of something else to do. Aren't we the city that knows how?

  2. Well said and constructive Jarie. I've participated in the race for at least 22 years. The chaos is a big attraction but it has clearly ratcheted up a few notches these past few years. As you point out with the Castro Halloween analogy the boorish behavior, prolonged party stops and unchecked uncivility will undo this iconic event soon if no changes are made. Clearing the streets a couple hours earlier - and perhaps patroling the hotspots (Hayes & Fell Steets) with some mounted police to hand out hefty public urination and drunk in public citations (or even paddy wagon trips downtown) would send a strong message - especially if their presence was well publicized ahead of time. Maybe float fees and collected fines would cover the overtime??