Opinion: Is City Hall a place for Bike Racers?

Opinion: Will Kane, from the SF Chronicle

The 2012 Dew Tour Toyota City Champions are held at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, CA Thursday October 18th, 2012. Photo: Michael Short, Special To The Chronicle / SF

  • The 2012 Dew Tour Toyota City Champions are held at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco, CA Thursday October 18th, 2012. Photo: Michael Short

 

 The dirt bikers launching off ramps into jaw-dropping flips in front of City Hall this week will bring crowds, money and excitement to town.

That much is clear. But in San Francisco, one person’s sporting event is another’s political hot potato – and it isn’t hard to find people for whom the four-day Dew Tour extreme sports festival also means a surplus of exhaust fumes, dust and nuisance.

“There is a very large mound of dirt right in front of City Hall,” said Supervisor John Avalos. “Is this really the best use of public lands?”

The skateboard, dirt bike and BMX bike competition, called the “America’s Cup of BMX biking” by one city official, started Thursday and will fill the Civic Center area until Sunday. Demolition will take a few more days.

Construction zone

Crews have spent the last week sculpting dirt jumps with small bulldozers and hammering together grandstands and skateboard half-pipes. The plaza, usually a popular hangout for tourists and tired drifters, has been cut off since construction began Oct 8.

“Our parks are places that have general access and general use,” said Avalos, a frequent critic of the city Recreation and Park Department. “If Rec and Park is going to shut down the park for two weeks so we can put on a weekend event, does that make a lot of sense?”

It makes total sense, said Sarah Ballard, a Rec and Park spokeswoman. Parks are supposed to be places that attract a variety of users, she said.

“In this case, we have actually undertaken a concerted effort to bring people to Civic Center,” Ballard said. “This is a continuation of the efforts to bring activity to Civic Center Plaza.”

Try it yourself

And every part of the Dew Tour, save a few ticketed grandstands, is entirely free to the public, she said. On Sunday, hometown amateur skaters will be able to skate the same course the pros do.

“We think it is an exciting opportunity for San Franciscans and it, frankly, allows us to reach a demographic that is hard to reach – the teenage demographic,” Ballard said.

Organizers of the tour, whose main sponsor is the Mountain Dew soda company, paid the lean parks department almost $311,000 to rent the plaza for 17 days, Ballard said. The sponsors of the event have also booked 2,300 combined nights in city hotels. Even more rooms are filled by friends, family and fans.

“I think it is chasing cheap dollars,” Avalos said. “I think a good portion of the public is going to feel that way.”

Soda subsidy

And on top of all that, Avalos asked, why is the city taking money from Mountain Dew owner PepsiCo anyway?

“Rec and Park has a mission to provide recreation; they had a whole campaign to get rid of soft drinks,” Avalos said. “This is an event that is promoting Mountain Dew. Are we really lowering our standards by putting on events like this?”

Phil Ginsburg, head of the parks department, said fans were smart enough to make their own decision.

“There are a lot of sponsors at this event. Every major event has corporate sponsors,” he said. “We don’t believe in kids drinking soda. This event promotes healthy activity.”

View from sidelines

Crowds packed the sun-drenched plaza Thursday afternoon as the skaters warmed up.Paul Wood, 49, a regular in Civic Center Plaza, glowered from the public library.

“Good idea, wrong location,” he said. “It is an infringement of people’s – what do you call them? – civil liberties to have this here, because we don’t have access. They should hold it in Cow Hollow, like the America’s Cup.”

But Gregg Wilson, 43, of San Francisco, said he was stoked to see the skaters.

“I’m here to see what the kids are doing, man,” Wilson said while sitting on his board on the plaza. “I’m 43 years old, I’m retired” – from skating.

“That’s San Francisco for you, someone is always going to complain,” he said when told of Avalos’ objections. “We got naked guys walking around in the Castro. That’s something they should worry about.”

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