Supervisor takes up bland Bay to Breakers

February 19, 2009 5:12:39 PM PST
San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi today proposed a number of improvements to the city's annual Bay to Breakers race, intended to keep neighborhoods along the race route from being trashed while preserving its unique, only-in-San Francisco quirks.

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At a news conference on the steps of City Hall, Mirkarimi said the "beloved and cherished" race -- known for flamboyant, even outrageous costumes, nakedness and some public drinking -- has become tarnished recently by "unsafe or destructive behavior" by some participants, many of them unregistered.

"Over the last few years, we have seen a bit of a degeneration of the race," he said.

Last year, an estimated 35 tons of trash were left to clean up after the event.

"A number of neighborhoods were considerably thrashed," Mirkarimi said.

Race organizers earlier this month issued a zero-tolerance policy on alcohol and forbade floats or wheeled objects of any kind, including bikes, roller blades and skateboards, at this year's race on May 17. They also refused to sanction "nude participation."

Mirkarimi today called for shared "personal and social responsibility" among participants, and said race sponsors "need to step up" a better marketing campaign to encourage non-running participants to register, and to have registration for floats.

Prices for participants range from $44 for early registrants to $55 the last two days before the race.

Mirkarimi said a campaign to make the race a greener event -- "a bit of Burning Man-ethic," with an understanding that participants leave no trace behind, he said -- would go a long way to helping "one of America's best races, unique to San Francisco."

"We also don't want to see drunken frat boys or knuckleheads with shopping carts," he added.

Nudity should be allowed, Mirkarimi said.

"It's going to happen anyway, it's a wink and a nod," he said.

Other proposals included a large increase in the number of portable toilets and trash bins lining the route, and a focus of police enforcement on rowdy, out-of-control drunken behavior, property damage and public urination.

Mirkarimi outlined a range of options regarding alcohol, including an outright ban, or banning kegs, hard alcohol and glass containers.

He said he hoped a further dialogue between race organizers, neighborhood groups and race supporters would produce constructive results.

Sam Singer, a spokesman for race organizers, agreed today about the need to have more participants registering.

Singer said registration has been decreasing in recent years, and estimated last year only about half of the participants in the event actually registered.

Singer said the money was needed to help pay for portable toilets, police and post-race cleanup.

"The spontaneity, the fun, the outrageousness should continue," Singer said.

"If you want fun, you have to be responsible," he added.

"We are looking at being flexible," Singer said, about modifying the bans on floats and nudity.

"We encourage outrageousness, we encourage wonderful costumes...we encourage people to dress or not to dress," he said.

"Alcohol's never been allowed," Singer stressed. "It's against the law."

Singer said possible revisions to the race rules were being discussed.

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