In the run-up to Super Bowl 50, gigantic, 1,600-pound "50" signs have been placed around many of San Francisco's most charming locales: the Palace of Fine Arts, Alamo Square and City Hall, among other planned locations.
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The statues made news this week because, well, San Franciscans keep defacing them. On Wednesday night, the City Hall statue's letters were rearranged to read "SUP BRO." Alamo Square's "50," which was modified to "SUPERB OWL" this week, has previously been tagged with the words "F*** ED LEE," after the mayor.
It's funny, of course. But many in San Francisco are deeply unhappy with the introduction of these statues.
But why, you might ask, would the good people of San Francisco be unhappy? The Super Bowl is a moment for the city to shine -- shouldn't its residents be thrilled? Why wouldn't they be excited to have Super Bowl 50 signs around the city?
Allow me to explain.
The Super Bowl is actually in Santa Clara
The obvious one: The Super Bowl is not, in fact, taking place in San Francisco. The game will be some 45 miles south -- an hour's drive if you luck out with traffic. The Super Bowl 50 Committee is still holding a lot of events in the city, however, and has closed off a section of downtown San Francisco to build Super Bowl City, a fan-oriented pavilion that opens on Saturday.
This is particularly sensitive, because ...
San Francisco is footing a lot of the bill
San Francisco taxpayers have good reason to be concerned. A Jan. 15 report from the San Francisco city controller's office noted the people of San Francisco are currently on the hook for more than $5 million. Among these costs? A $12,000 bill for security at a dinner for NFL owners at City Hall.
The controller's report also noted that San Francisco, unlike Santa Clara, failed to negotiate a written agreement with the Super Bowl Host Committee, meaning a lot of IOUs can be expected.
Also of note: the city waived the bulk of the standard fees to install the "50" statues. "The permit fees were waived as this is part of the civic celebration," said San Francisco Recreation and Park Department spokeswoman Sarah Madland.
Hosting Super Bowl events is a real pain in the ass
The Super Bowl planning committee eventually backpedaled on its request to have a portion of the city's overhead bus wires taken down -- wires that keep an integral part of San Francisco's ever-tenuous public transportation system running. (Their argument in favor of the removal was, essentially, that the cables are ugly.)
But that fan pavilion in downtown San Francisco? Turns out that shutting down streets in the center of a city for two weeks at just the time that thousands of visitors pour in from across the country does not do great things for traffic. (Super Bowl City opens on Jan. 30 but roads have been closed since Jan. 23.)
"Santa Clara is hosting the Super Bowl, the world’s most lucrative marketing event," two members of the Board of Supervisors wrote in an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle this week. "San Francisco is hosting the traffic jam."
The Super Bowl is exacerbating existing problems in the city
The grounds around San Francisco's City Hall -- precisely where the Super Bowl 50 sign was defaced to say "SUP BRO" -- are where many of the city's homeless congregate and sleep. Over the last couple weeks, homeless populations in the downtown zones where Super Bowl festivities are scheduled to occur have suddenly moved elsewhere. An excellent, if sobering, report in Fusion suggests that a new camp that has arisen in a southeastern corner of the city is the result of a concerted effort by city government and police in conjunction with Super Bowl planners.
"Homeless people interviewed for this story said San Francisco police have been actively pushing and corralling the city’s homeless into a four-block radius on Division between Mission and Harrison in preparation for the Super Bowl on Feb. 7," writes Fusion's Michael Rosen, "where they are hidden underneath a freeway underpass and bordering an industrial area of the city."
The enthusiastic rollout of the Super Bowl hoopla is also a microcosm of a broader battle that has been going on in San Francisco for the last 10 years or more: a new, moneyed enterprise rolls into town and, with the blessing of the city government, upends everything. The NFL causing traffic jams and raising hotel prices for a couple weeks is hardly the years-long creep of Silicon Valley, of course -- but this battle, this specific kind of glossy, inexorable invasion that everyone says will be so nice, is something that many San Franciscans have been fighting for years.
You left your what in San Francisco?
The statues also strike a certain symbolic nerve. Since 2004, the city has hosted giant, heart-shaped statues across town, including in many of the locations that now also host "50" statues. The hearts, which are painted a variety of bright colors and patterns by artists, are a tender, if goofy, homage to Tony Bennett's classic about the City by the Bay. They now vie with reminders of just what hosting Super Bowl 50 is going to entail.
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