Haight fair hits hurdles for booze, booths 

The Haight Street Fair might not be able to celebrate its 30th anniversary this year, due to community opposition to alcohol consumption that one critic says turns the annual fair into a "big inebriated mess."

The six-block fair, which runs from Stanyan Street to Masonic Avenue, is set to take place on June 10, but the Haight Street Fair Board, a nonprofit organization, was not able to obtain a vital street-closure permit during a hearing Thursday.

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The Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation, a subdivision of the Municipal Transit Agency, decided to place the board’s application on hold for two weeks until conflict is resolved about two key issues — the placement of booths and designated drinking "beer garden" areas that community groups are demanding.

The Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, the Cole Valley Improvement Association, the Waller Street Association and the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association have formed a coalition to voice their demands to the Haight Street Fair Board and city officials.

Cheryl Brodie, president of HAIA, said the coalition is demanding placement of booths in the street instead of on the sidewalk to help pedestrian and merchant visibility. The coalition also wants beer gardens in place to control alcohol consumption that some residents say wreaks havoc on the neighborhood.

"The whole fair right now is a beer garden — a big inebriated mess — and we’re looking to contain that mess," Brodie said.

Haight Street Fair Board Director Robert Leon, who took over as director after founder Pablo Heising died suddenly in December, said if the board is denied a permit, it is prepared to appeal the decision all the way to the Board of Supervisors.

"Every year we make adjustments. We are trying to come up with a full plan that will meet the requirements and approval of ISCOTT," Leon said, adding that he thought some of the community group’s demands were unfounded.

Police Capt. John Ehrlich said although there have never been any major problems with the fair, he wants to see beer gardens — or designated drinking areas — to curb problems stemming from drunk fairgoers. The beer gardens have also been placed at the Union Street Fair and most recently at the North Beach Festival.

"If I have anything to do with it, if there’s alcohol at the fair, it’ll be a beer garden. It’s my professional opinion that the more alcohol is consumed, the higher probability of criminal problems," Ehrlich said.

Leon said in order to proceed with the planning of the festival — which includes recruiting vendors and sponsors — a permit must be issued soon.

"The street closure permit opens up the door to things we need to get done," Leon said.


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