The Bach blasting from speakers through the night above the Grove and Market Street Burger King began several weeks ago, or so a tip to SFist claims. As anyone who has tried to walk by that storefront, which sits at the top of a BART/Muni escalator, is very familiar, it serves as gathering place for mid-Market dwellers with seemingly nowhere else to go and nothing better to do.
A local Civic Center blog also picked up on the music, observing last week that "a Mozart string quintet" was a "surrealistic musical choice for the location." What's more, it wasn't serving as entertainment.
Instead, the music appeared to function like a sort of sonic barrier. "The corner was completely empty on Sunday morning of its usual denizens and continues to be so two weeks later," that blog observes, speculating that the tactic was purposeful, and could be seen as "a tool for gentrification."
ABC 7 followed the story, learning that several speakers were installed not by Burger King itself but by a local nonprofit, the Central Market Community Benefit District. As that group describes its work, "The CMCBD makes the Central Market area a safer, more attractive, more desirable place to work, live, shop, locate a business and own property by delivering services beyond those the City of San Francisco can provide."
It's fair to guess that using classical music to ward of homeless people isn't a service the city would provide, at least comfortably and without controversy. A spokesperson for the group said she was inspired by reading about a similar use of loud classical music in the London underground.
The CMCBD is funded by local property owners who pay a share for membership — a ton of businesses all listed here.
As one BART commuter told ABC 7, "Usually you can barely walk by. There's grocery carts, blankets full of merchandise that's not theirs, drug use." Said another: "It's classical music. I love it."
Others find it problematic. "For people who do live on the street for whatever reason," said one homeless resident of the area who sleeps down the street at the library, "this can be very distracting, keep people up at night."
Another resident, one with housing, says "I can't play my music outside after 10 o'clock, can I? In which case, they're infringing on the rights of others."
In fact, amplified music is limited to 10 decibels greater than ambient street noise, and the classical music at Burger King is turned down from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. at the request of a local hotel.