SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Feelings are running high over efforts to tone down some of the wilder elements of San Francisco's annual Bay to Breakers race - famous for its odd floats and contestants in wacky costumes, or no costume at all.
In a statement announcing the May 17 event, race sponsor ING said it would have a "zero tolerance policy" on alcohol, floats and nudity.
That came in response to loud complaints from race route residents who say they've seen such anti-social behavior as trash dumped everywhere and doorsteps turned into impromptu urinals.
"People need to treat San Francisco with the same respect that they treat their own home and their own street," said Sam Singer, a San Francisco publicist and spokesman for the race organizers.
But this being San Francisco, a counter-protest movement immediately sprang into being.
"I AM OUTRAGED," began a Web petition that sprang up after organizers announced the crackdown last month.
Since then, organizers have tacitly backed off the ban on running in the nude, but have held firm on the alcohol and the ban of floats, a tradition that ranges from elaborately crafted edifices to entries from the keg-in-a-shopping-cart school of art.
"It is important to note that ING Bay to Breakers is a 12K race, not a civic parade," Angela Fang, general manager of the race, wrote in an open letter to participants.
Started in 1912 as a way to boost civic morale following the devastating earthquake and fire of 1906, the race is named after its route, which starts at the San Francisco Bay and runs cross-city to the breakers of the Pacific.
Held every third Sunday in May, the event attracts tens of thousands of people, everyone from the fleet elite to a ragtag band of wildly costumed - or not - participants, a sort of annual running of the fast and the dubious.
"It's kind of the flavor of San Francisco," said Stuart Schuffman, a resident of the city who opposes the crackdown. "If you can't be naked running around the streets here, where can you?"
By late Wednesday, more than 22,000 people had signed a Web petition vowing to boycott race registration. "The heart and soul of San Francisco is under attack," asserts the site, created by the newly formed Citizens for the Preservation of Bay 2 Breakers.
The issue has reached the attention of City Hall, with Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi proposing compromises including encouraging all participants to register for the race, requiring registration of floats, providing more portable toilets and trash receptacles, and encouraging responsibility rather than outright banning alcohol.
Mirkarimi has introduced a resolution to be considered by the Board of Supervisors that urges city agencies, neighborhood groups and race advocates to come up with a plan that addresses concerns while preserving "the fun and free spirit of the race."
"Everyone's sort of agreed we don't want to see riot police cracking skulls at Bay to Breakers. At the same time, the race has been getting more and more out of control the last couple of years," said Mirkarimi aide Jeremy Pollock. "Everybody's trying to do what they can to get it a little more under control."
Race organizers appreciate city officials' efforts, Singer said.
"This year in particular, given the situation of the world, the difficult economic straits of the nation, the state and the city and county of San Francisco, it's all the more important people are able to celebrate and be outrageous," he said. "We just need to do it more responsibly."
On the Net:
Official site: http://www.baytobreakers.com
Citizens for the Preservation of Bay 2 Breakers: http://www.savebay2breakers.org
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