Permits given to Olympic torch protesters

April 2, 2008 6:56:18 PM PDT
Mayor Newsom anticipates the high price of policing the streets of San Francisco when the Olympic torch arrives next week.

Prestige has a price and for the honor of being the only North American city to host the torch relay-- it's going to cost a pretty penny.

Most of that money will be spent-- not on the ceremony itself-- but keeping protestors from crashing the party.

It's not just on police although that will be the biggest price tag, but it is also Muni and the Department of Parking and Traffic.

The Olympic Committee doesn't help out at all and San Francisco is facing a multi-million dollar budget deficit, but the mayor says ? it's worth it.

The Olympic torch arrived in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan on Wednesday -- part of a 130 day tour that will bring it to San Francisco next week.

The city expects thousands of people to line a six-mile route; many will be cheering but others will be protesting.

They'll be able to line the torch relay route with banners and signs. Permits for massive demonstrations that the city had put on hold, are now being approved.

"If they want to do it as close as possible to the route, we'll work with them to give them the options that are available," said Rose Dennis from San Francisco Recreation Parks Department.

As of Wednesday, permits have been granted to 2,000 demonstrators with the Buddhist Peace Fellowship to take over Civic Center Plaza, at the Maritime Plaza for 500 activists with the San Francisco Bay Darfur coalition and two Tibetan groups have reserved three spots and are expecting two to 3,000 people.

The ACLU had been pushing the mayor for weeks to get the route information.

"One of our concerns certainly is all the confusion around what would be allowed, the confusion around what wouldn't be allowed, the confusion over the route and when the relay would occur. has dissuaded people who have been making plans from coming from all over the country saying it's not worth it," said Michael Risher from the ACLU.

The Chinese consulate hopes the protestors won't mar the pageantry.

"They are political groups, they are, you know trying to take advantage to fulfill their political aim. It's a major concern to us because of security issues," said Chinese consulate spokesperson Defa Tong.

City police are bracing for demonstrations on a mass scale as they do for war protests. Police Chief Heather Fong says days off have been cancelled.

"We are constantly monitoring overtime. I know that's a bad word," said San Francisco Police Dept. Chief Heather Fong.

One city official puts the projected overtime costs at 400,000 plus. The mayor won't give an estimate but admits covering the Olympic torch and two other torch relays will cost a lot.

"It does come at a price, but it's also offset by the incredible attention were going to get around the world. We hope its positive attention, not negative," said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

As for those groups that are reserving various spots around San Francisco, they seem to be far away from the action. But several others are going to ask for permits since the city has begun handing them off, and they will try to probably try to get a lot closer to the action.