City prepares for 4/20 celebrations with event sponsor, additional services

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) San Francisco's most popular unofficial festival, the 4/20 celebrations in Golden Gate Park, will have something new at this year's version on Thursday: a sponsor, of sorts.

Every year, as many as 15,000 people descend on the park's Sharon Meadows area, also known as "Hippie Hill," for the unsanctioned, unofficial and unsponsored event celebrating marijuana use, creating traffic and police headaches and often trashing the park and surrounding neighborhoods.

City officials estimate they spend as much as $140,000 annually managing the effects of the event and collect around 10 tons of trash in its aftermath.

This year though, for the first time a group of merchants with experience in staging events including the Haight Street Fair have come together to provide services for the event.

Alex Aquino, owner of men's clothing store Black Scale, said he and other Haight Street merchants have raised more than $100,000 to set up fencing, security, medical personnel, approved food vendors and, perhaps most importantly, restrooms.

A San Francisco native and father who lives close to the park, Aquino said that by stepping up to provide some event management, his group was "just trying to do the right thing" to protect the park and neighborhood
and keep people safe.

"I'm a merchant on the block and this is my life right here, and I just wanted to make it better," Aquino said. "It's one of the biggest events that comes to the park already. There's a void there and we just wanted to
help out."

The new event management will also be enforcing some rules for the event. Those attending will be going through security at the gate, and are asked to avoid bringing glass, barbecues and cooking equipment, amplified sound equipment, generators or tents, tables and other structures. No marijuana or alcohol will be sold inside the fence.

Most importantly, people are being told to not bring their children because this year's event is strictly 18 and up, city officials said.

"4/20 is no event for children. We do not want children at this event, children should not be at this event, and we have partnered with child protective services and we will take enforcement action if necessary," San
Francisco police Capt. John Sanford warned today.

Juvenile probation officers will also be patrolling for youth in the area, and local schools have been asked to remind students to stay away from 4/20 events.

Police will also be working with Animal Care and Control to manage any vicious animals in the area, and have provided two special hotlines to the neighborhood for any quality of life issues such as public urination. The hotline numbers are (415) 242-3060 and (415) 242-3061.

No road closures or San Francisco Municipal Railway reroutes are currently planned but Muni officials said they could happen depending on the crowds. Riders traveling through the areas around the park should check
Twitter and the agency's website at www.sfmta.com for updates and call 311 to report problems.

Some shuttles will be available to help with crowding on affected Muni routes.

City officials said that despite the new support, the event remains unsanctioned and technically illegal, given that smoking in city parks is not legal. They emphasized that the city response is about managing the impacts of the event, rather than about condoning it.

"It is what it is," Supervisor London Breed said. We're talking about over 15,000 people, we can't stop everybody from smoking pot," Breed said. "We realize that this event is going to happen whether we want it to happen or not, so it would be irresponsible for us to do nothing." 

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