Bay to Breakers: The Death of Fun?

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Bay to Breakers (B2B) is under attack.  For countless thousands both in San Francisco and around the world, the third Sunday in May has always represented an eclectic mix of athleticism and hedonism, one that no other event in any other city can deliver. But in their crusade to suburbanize our great metropolis, curmudgeons are set on destroying the most beloved of San Francisco traditions.

As currently outlined in bold on the official website, the new "improvements and policies" will undoubtedly crush the joi de vivre of this venerated spectacle.  Bay to Breakers 2009 will feature NO ALCOHOL, NO FLOATS and NO NUDITY.  If the grouches get their way, it will be a lame footrace like any other.  What could prompt such a draconian crackdown?

Naturally, neighbors along the route are upset about rampant urination on their doorsteps.  Last year, organizers hoped to solve this problem by increasing the number of porta-potties from 400 to 500 for 60,000 people! Predictably, thousands of participants concluded that a 15-minute wait, for a hot and smelly stall, held no appeal against the building wall or car tire.  Now, proclaiming that 2008 was "out of control" (despite the fact that there was not a single arrest), organizers have decided to kill the event.

The good news is that there is a simple solution to the urine problem: go in the gutter, not on a building!  San Francisco, unlike most cities, has a combined sewer system.  This means that water that drains into the gutter flows to the treatment plant, where it is processed exactly like everything that goes down the toilet.  Rather than attempt to shame people for answering when nature calls, organizers should instruct participants to relieve themselves in the spot that is designed for it: the gutter.  This would ameliorate the urine issue.

Another appropriate concern is the leftover debris, particularly the abandoned floats, that become the cleanup responsibility of the Department of Public Works.  Keep in mind that many teams spend countless hours building a float, but when it’s time to take Muni home at the end of the parade, they have no choice but to abandon it.  Why not designate an area in Golden Gate Park where floats can be left for 48 hours?  Participants would then have the opportunity to come back and pick up their float the next day.  This would remove a major cleanup burden for the City.

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While we can all agree on the need to mitigate urination and trash, the quest to abolish nudity is incomprehensible.  Honestly, what is the big deal?  San Francisco has always been a beacon of tolerance, as embodied by Bare to Breakers.  People fly in from all around the world to run naked in our great race.  Since when has puritanical queasiness trumped our glorious San Francisco values?

B2B was created in 1912 to raise the spirits of San Franciscans following the 1906 earthquake.  Today, the frivolity that only B2B can deliver is needed more than ever, as we struggle with deficits and pink slips.  Let’s not forget that the event, which closes major traffic arteries to allow thousands to run, walk and enjoy a drink with friends, already represents the epitome of the livable streets renaissance.

This is a celebrated tradition that must endure. 

Organizers should focus their attention on mitigating the negative effects on the neighborhood, not obliterate this nearly 100-year-old, cherished ritual.

Please contact Mayor Newsom at gavin.newsom@sfgov.org and the organizers at info@ingbaytobreakers.com and let him know how you feel.  Also join the facebook group and sign the petition at www.savebaytobreakers.com.

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