Counting on some nice chunks of change from holiday shopping foot traffic, buskers set up in force around Union Square this time of year playing everything from drum kits, to trumpets, to keyboards — providing a non-Muzak soundtrack to season. According to the Examiner, those sounds are being silenced as SFPD has taken to confiscating musicians' instruments and holding them for sometimes weeks at a time.
“What they’re really doing is they are seizing their instruments to intimidate those musicians,” deputy public defender Seth Meisels told the paper. “These musicians have told me that SFPD is working as private security for the St. Francis — that seems about right.”
The St. Francis in question is not the city's namesake, Francis of Assisi, but rather the downtown Westin St. Francis hotel located right on Union Square. According to some of the buskers, the hotel has been complaining to police about the noise, and SFPD has been all too happy to respond. This has reportedly left some of the artists without the tools of their trade for extended periods, depriving them of earnings at what is typically a busy time of the year.
“The officers asked for the drum set off the truck, and an employee came over from the St. Francis and she basically told the police officer what she wanted was the drum set confiscated,” Parris Lane, one downtown busker, told the Examiner of one such confiscation.
Under city law, officials can enforce disturbances of the peace, but someone has to be offended. Because of that, musicians say enforcement is uneven. “Ten [officers] can pass and none say anything,” Market Street drummer Tony Light explained. “Then, the one.”
While the specific claim that employees of the Westin St. Francis are directing SFPD to take instruments is unproven, the Hotel Council did provide a potential motivation — essentially, the hotel is worried its guests will be offended by the music. “The Hotel Council of San Francisco believes that unpermitted use of amplified and consistently loud sound on city sidewalks should be addressed by law enforcement to ensure our guests, our employees and our city’s businesses can operate without disturbances that are violating city laws,” Kevin Carroll, executive director of the Hotel Council, told the paper.
And so, in an apparent attempt to cater to the assumed tastes of hotel guests — possibly the very same tourists who throw a dollar or two in a busker's tips jar — downtown is being made sterile one confiscation at a time.
Related: San Francisco's Best Buskers