Boozy SF footrace attempts dry run for centennial

AP News
Posted: May 14, 2011 5:59 PM
Boozy SF footrace attempts dry run for centennial

Over the past 100 years, San Francisco's Bay to Breakers footrace has evolved from a wholesome, modest-size athletic event into a rowdy spectacle featuring tens of thousands of runners and spectators _ some costumed, others nude and many rip-roaring drunk.

As the event prepares to celebrate its centennial Sunday, organizers are hoping a new zero-tolerance alcohol policy will help usher in a more responsible, sponsor-friendly era.

But many participants are planning a different kind of birthday party.

A detailed Bay to Breakers Booze Map provides directions to liquor stores that will open in time for the 7 a.m. race, while a Berkeley brewery is setting up nine "pit stops" at bars along the 7.5-mile route from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. And for the technophiles in the race, the SaveB2B Twitter feed will offer up-to-the-minute tips on how to avoid the police checkpoints scattered throughout the course.

"It's gotten a little crazy in the past, but in San Francisco, it's just kind of what we do: we have a good time," said seven-time race participant Mariza Snyder.

The 31-year-old Oakland resident said she plans to run _ and drink _ this year alongside 20 friends.

"I'm definitely not happy about the new regulations, but I'm not really fazed by it. We're just going to do whatever we do anyway," she said.

In addition to the alcohol policy, changes to this year's race include a ban on floats, an earlier start time, a 55,000-person cap on registration, and a pledge to kick non-registered revelers off the course.

Nudity _ and runners dressed up as human genitalia _ will still be tolerated, and if past years are any indication, there will be plenty.

Organizers and city officials say the crackdown is necessary after a noticeable increase in alcohol-related ambulance requests and nuisance crimes such as vandalism and public urination in recent years.

It has long been illegal to have open alcohol containers in public, but in the past the city turned a blind eye to liquor-filled water bottles and floats that were essentially "large Trojan horses filled with kegs," said Sam Singer, a spokesman for entertainment company AEG, the race organizer.

"We've been seeing Bay to Breakers become alcohol-infested," said David Perry, whose public relations firm was hired by the city to promote the new rules, which he admits have not been popular. "When people say this is an anti-party campaign, I say no, this is a public-safety campaign."

The boozy antics didn't sit well with corporate sponsors, either. ING declined to renew its sponsorship agreement this year, and new lead sponsor Zazzle only signed on in mid-March.

To enforce the new policy, police officers and private security guards will man a series of checkpoints and "sobering tents," said Cmdr. James Dudley, who is coordinating the police response for the San Francisco Police Department. The police presence also will be larger than last year's 250 officers, he said, though he declined to provide a specific number.

Dudley brushed off criticism of the aggressive approach.

"For somebody to say it's their God-given right to drink till they vomit, they need to look at other alternatives for fun," he said.

Some of the loudest criticism has come from Citizens for the Preservation of Bay2Breakers, a nonprofit that opposes the new rules.

Founder Ed Sharpless called 2011 a "protest year" for the group, which formed in 2009 after plans for an alcohol ban were first announced. By Friday afternoon, the group had amassed 15,600 Facebook fans.

"The San Francisco Bay area is the birthplace of modern protests in America," Sharpless said. "We've seen the death of fun in the city over last four or five years, and Bay to Breakers is the line in the sand."

The group is using a range of social media tools to help people skirt the checkpoints, locate alcohol vendors and create faux race bibs on their home computers.

"Our biggest goal is to get as many revelers and partiers out there as possible," said Sharpless, adding that he believes the rules are largely unenforceable in such a huge crowd _ an expected 100,000 onlookers in addition to the runners.

Other party promoters are less overt. Despite what their name suggests, the nine "Trumer Pils Pit Stops" are aimed at spectators, not runners _ at least until the race is finished, said April Dougan, the company's district sales manager. The outposts will open at 8 a.m.

This is the first year Trumer Pils has set up shop at the race, but it seemed like a natural fit, Dougan said.

"Bay to Breakers is a huge event where people like to drink beer," she said.

Snyder, who is still mulling costume ideas for this year's race, said she thinks any attempt by organizers to mold Bay to Breakers into a certain image is futile.

"It's a celebration, and it can really be what you want it to be," she said. "I think it's going to be my best year yet. I really can't imagine anything is going to put a damper on it."