Organizers for annual celebrations such as Nov. 2’s Day of the Dead altar display in Garfield Park are scrambling for solutions to accommodate recent changes made to the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department‘s permit policy.
It’s not that permits have gotten much pricier, it’s that the services that come with the permits have dwindled to almost nothing.
Event organizers like Siouxsie Oki are left looking for toilets, hiring licensed security guards and trying to raise the funds to pay for it all.
“If the cost puts us in a position where we have to consider an admission charge, the event will go away,” said Oki, a volunteer organizer at Marigold Project, the nonprofit which has been organizing the altar section of the Day of the Dead procession and altar display since 2000. Before that, the Rescue Culture Collective organized both sections of the event.
The Day of the Dead altar display is unlikely to go away soon, but throwing what’s always been a relatively inexpensive event has gotten more difficult.
The money from funders — about $5,000 last year — has always covered four to six artists, publicity, decorations, and permitting. This year, for the first time in its history, Marigold Project has had to solicit $2,000 in additional funding to cover permit-related expenditures. It’s funded by a grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, sporadic help from the Mission Workman’s Association, and additional money from private donors.
Increased costs are facing all event organizers this year as the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department has raised fees and cut back on the extent to which public facilities can be used.
“Our celebration for 2009 took place before the changes in policy went into effect,” said Brendan Behan, deputy executive director of San Francisco’s annual lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender SF Pride Celebration and Parade.
But for next year, they’re looking at a steep rise in costs: $15,000 in permit-related fees that will bring their total to $24,000. “It’s a difficult situation,” said Behan – especially with the economy already affecting their budget.
Behan said tented space for community grassroots organization might be the first to go. After that, entertainment could be trimmed, he said.
Brad Olsen, executive producer of the How Weird Street Faire held on Howard Street in SoMa, is also facing cutbacks. “The new fees are just enormous and I feel like the city’s really shooting us in the foot,” he said.
Olsen’s not sure what he’s going to cut for his next event, but said financing will definitely be a challenge. “It’s make or break time for festivals right now,” he added. “We’ll see what happens.”
In the case of smaller events, like the Day of the Dead procession, the permitting process has also gotten more complicated.
Oki, from Marigold Project, said she used to get her $1,127.50 permit directly from the parks and recreation department. This year, the police got involved and issued new demands: six licensed security guards, which will cost Marigold $828 before taxes.
“Now we have to pay an outside company to take care of something that some people think should be handled by the San Francisco Police Department,” said Oki. All told, Marigold Project’s permit-related expenditures have gone up $2,046 — almost half of the organization’s entire annual budget for the last several years.
Elton Pon, a public information officer from the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department, is frank about why. “The changes have been implemented across the board to cut cost and generate revenue,” he said.
Pon added that actual permit fees have only been raised modestly, but what organizers get in return has diminished significantly. Services offered no longer include the use of park bathrooms and dumpsters. This means small event organizers now have to pay for their own.
“The port-o-potties are exactly what I’m talking about,” said Oki. “I mean, there’s a public bathroom right there at Garfield Park and it’s always been enough, but now the parks and recreation department won’t let us use it because they don’t want to pay someone to staff it.”
Extra toilets, she said, added $500 to their bill.
“Why should that expense be passed to us?”
As far as the need for heightened security goes, Oki agreed it’s a good idea generally, but wonders if it’s really necessary for her organization’s event. “This is a peaceful procession and it always has been,” she said.
Still, the security requirement will continue to be enforced for any event the police department deems large or unruly enough. “We don’t judge the need for more security by an official headcount or anything,” said Sgt. Marta McDowell, the department’s events manager. “We just take a look at how each event has been going and then we make a decision.”
McDowell said she’s noticed more reports of public drinking in the last few years and that the Day of the Dead procession has gotten larger over time.
“Typically this event has no security,” she said. “But it really needs it because any time you have any type of festival there are going to be people disobeying the rules.”
McDowell agreed that in a perfect world the police department would be able to offer adequate presence whenever it’s needed, but that with the amount of festivals the city holds — nearly 200 in the past couple weeks, according to McDowell — that’s not going to happen.
“They can have their parties, but they’re gonna have to pay something,” she said.