Drunks will be detained in tents during San Francisco's Zazzle Bay to Breakers race 

In an effort to curb unruly behavior that has plagued the Zazzle Bay to Breakers footrace in the past, organizers and city officials plan to operate several “sobering tents” along the route to detain drunken revelers.

Sam Singer, a spokesman for the event, said drinkers would be taken to the tents as an alternative to going to jail. Officials say the race has put too much stress on The City’s jails and hospitals.

Singer said last year’s race involved 26 ambulance trips to the hospital, 30 tons of trash left in the streets, hundreds of reports of public urination and defecation, even reports of home invasions.

Singer said the intent is not to take the fun out of the quirky event, but to prevent the problems of the past. This year’s 100th anniversary race will come with zero tolerance for alcohol and the keg-equipped parade-style floats that sauntered down the street behind registered runners.

“Come in a costume, come naked, just don’t come drunk,” Singer said.

The tents were mentioned earlier this month in a meeting of the Department of Emergency Management’s Disaster Council by San Francisco police Cmdr. Jim Dudley, who said they have been successful at past outdoor events such as the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Officials declined to give many details about how the tents will operate. Dr. John Brown, medical director of San Francisco Emergency Medical Services Agency, did say workers at the tents will offer water and juice to help sober people up, as well as try and find them a ride home.

In recent years, neighborhood groups have complained about drunken participants getting out of control — urinating on property, behaving belligerently and trashing the areas along the race route. 

Jarie Bolander, president of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association, said the race was simply fun before 2007, but a seedier element has crept into more recent races.

“We want to say, ‘Hey, you’re running through my neighborhood. We have a say in you not trashing it,’” Bolander said, adding that neighbors used to set up an outside living room to watch the procession, but now some try to be out of town for it.

After learning of the sobering stations, Conor Johnston, the co-chairman of the Citizens for the Preservation of Bay to Breakers, referred to it as a “mobile gulag plan.”

“They are putting forward every effort they can to make this into an ordinary 12K footrace,” Johnston said. “They have no respect for the culture of San Francisco.”

Johnston’s group formed in 2009, after past event organizers first attempted — unsuccessfully — to institute a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol and nudity.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi likened the last few years of enforcement efforts to “pushing a boulder uphill.” Mirkarimi said that while the abandoned makeshift floats can cause a trash problem, keeping them out of the race could detract from the event’s unique character, so a tiered registration system should be devised for unofficial participants.

On the tents, he isn’t sure yet.

“It’s all a laboratory at this point,” he said. “All I can say is they better have some good coffee and plenty of Porta-Potties.”


AEG, organizer of the Zazzle Bay to Breakers, shares the same owners as Clarity Media, which oversees The San Francisco Examiner.


Bay to Breakers fast facts

  • The 100th anniversary race is Sunday, May 15.
  • There are 55,000 racers registered for the 12K event (registration closed).
  • This year will feature zero tolerance for alcohol and floats, and four to eight “sobering tents” placed in undisclosed locations across The City.
  • The first race, in 1911, was meant to showcase San Francisco following the 1906 earthquake.
  • The race is considered one of the oldest in the world.

Sources: Baytobreakers100.com, Sam Singer

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