In SF’s Chinatown, Conflict Over Outdoor Events Resolved — for Now 

Mattsjc/Wikimedia Commons

LionDanceME performs a lion dance in Chinatown, San Francisco.

A conflict among businesses in San Francisco’s Chinatown is quelled for now, following a decision by the city’s Board of Appeals to limit amplified sound at outdoor events along a major tourist artery for the next two months. 

Dance company LionDanceME’s amplified-sound permit, with the board-imposed constraints, will expire in June. At that point, the company can apply for a new one. 

At the board’s Wednesday hearing, merchants and others said that the community had not been adequately informed about the company’s efforts to get this permit. That’s why they had not shown up and voiced their concerns at the public meeting where it was granted. 

“This time our community will for sure know it,” said Ben Marcus-Willers, referring to the possible future hearing for a renewed permit. He, alongside others from Chinatown’s merchant community, triggered Wednesday’s hearing. He said he believed the board’s decision was fair. 

Following the decision, Norman Lau, LionDanceME founder, said: “It’s not about winning a battle. It’s about avoiding a war.” 

For weeks, Lau and a group of local merchants have been in contention over the permit, as part of a larger, ongoing conflict over outdoor events in Chinatown.  

The events were originally intended to help the neighborhood recover from the ravages of COVID-19, which injured the tourism industry in Chinatown and throughout the city. But as local groups increasingly obtained permits for outdoor street closures to hold events, merchants along Grant Avenue, a major tourist corridor before the pandemic, began to object. They claimed that the events were creating too much noise and disrupting their businesses. 

The dispute came to a head when the merchants group got the Board of Appeals to intervene, temporarily suspending Lau’s amplified-sound permit. The two sides failed to reach a compromise ahead of the board hearing.  

The board voted 4-1 to let LionDanceME temporarily retain a more limited version of the permit.

The permit’s original terms allowed for amplified sound at events during Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., along a three-block span of Grant Avenue. The board’s decision limits the use of amplified sound to Saturdays, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., along the 700 block of Grant Avenue, between Sacramento and Clay streets. 

LionDanceME possesses a separate permit, which is valid through March 2025 and allows it to hold outdoor events without amplified sound on weekends, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., along three blocks of Grant Avenue. The board’s decision did not affect this permit. However, Lau can choose to modify its terms, said Nick Chapman, the manager for street closures and special events at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. 

At the Wednesday hearing, Lau said he was open to reducing the scope of that permit too. 

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