Garcia: Summer of Love really is over 

Somehow I don’t think that banning alcohol sales at the Haight Street Fair this year is going to make it a much more straight-laced affair. For that to happen, I think they’d have to declare a "Spare the Air’’ day, close all the head shops and prohibit the use of matches.

But I will say that this year’s Haight Street fest will have an added layer of interest because it’s the first one in decades that will actually be scrutinized by numerous city departments and officials, as well as a host of neighborhood improvement organizations that have been trying to bring some sense of order to the chaos that reigns along that colorful western strip in The City.

For the transformation of the fair is really about a transformation of power in the Haight, which, despite the attempts of some longtime residents to make sure it stands as the local cauldron of counterculture, has quietly morphed into an area beaming with the upside of gentrification — a few select chain stores, expensive shops and even more expensive homes. Attempts to clean up Haight Street and surrounding neighborhoods have met with steely resistance through the years, but the new reality suggests that those clinging to the "dream’’ circa 1967 — the magical Summer of Love — can do so now only in books, on T-shirts and in memories.

This is worth noting because the shift, as far as the fair is concerned, really began in December, when the event’s longtime organizer, Pablo Heising, died of a heart attack.

Heising was old-school Haight, a romantic hippie at heart, but one who was absolutely passionate about the fair and its links to the Day-Glo days of substance-fueled fun. He presided over the fair for 29 years as absolute ruler and lord, which meant that the fair was always a raucous and unruly affair, with lots of drunken spillover into the neighborhood in the wee hours of the night.

Yet those who sought to carry on Heising’s vision, such as it was, ran into a new barrier this year in the form of a well-organized group of neighborhood and merchant associations seeking to tone down the revelry and force the new fair promoters to make street cleanup a priority. And without Heising’s sainted status and City Hall connections to carry as on usual, the new fair promoters found themselves between a bong and a hard place.

It pays to remember that in the Haight, there is no battle too big or too small. Various organizations and individuals have been fighting about the placement of a public paid toilet on the main commercial drag for more than eight years, which is why none exists. So when the idea of having alcohol sold at the fair — as it was historically done — came up, there was no shortage of ideas to rein in the party atmosphere of years past, including penning the drinkers into "gardens,’’ secure areas that would separate the wheat (beer drinkers) from the chaff.

That suggestion seemed almost an affront to the members of the fair organization that took over from Heising. Fair board president Robert Leon said compromising personal decisions "goes against the spirit of the community.’’ Yet rather than fight to keep the fest infused with alcohol, Leon said the organizers of the June 10 fair would relent to the political pressures to move the event from its booze-soaked past.

Still, there was plenty of "only in the Haight’’ moments at the hearing of the colorfully named Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation, which handles street closing permits, including one exchange in which a longtime fair board member suggested that Heising’s annual excuse for wild partying actually increased property values in the Haight. By that stretch of logic, the mayor’s economic development program should be pushing for fairs in the Bayview, Western Addition and Oceanview districts — perhaps with the backing of the San Francisco Board of Realtors.

The Haight Street Fair is one of the few in San Francisco where the booths are placed on the sidewalk, rather than in the middle of the street — which, much to shop owners’ chagrin, makes access to the stores difficult. Fair organizers say the configuration helps improve public safety — by stopping people from spontaneously tripping on curbs or maybe toppling baby strollers should they have to walk on the sidewalks, you know, like pedestrians do the other 364 days of the year.

But the funny thing is, when you’re dealing with the people who claim Haight Street and its environs as their own sacred haven, it almost makes sense. And almost is about as close to reality as you’re ever going to get.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at kgarcia@examiner.com or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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