San Francisco auditorium uses sonic blast, nightly, to disperse homeless
Homeless people camp out a few blocks from the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco last year.
May 2nd, 2012
02:30 PM ET

San Francisco auditorium uses sonic blast, nightly, to disperse homeless

Encouraging the homeless to find a new haunt is nothing new, but managers at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium may be breaking ground by attempting to do it sonically.

Of course, Manuel Noriega is and David Koresh was familiar with the acoustic warfare tactic, which at least one now-vanquished homeless San Franciscan felt was a harsh reaction to his and his cohorts' squatting, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Between 20 and 40 homeless had been hanging out and sleeping at Civic Center Park, and according to the newspaper, it was a source of frustration for police, the mayor, the city Recreation and Parks Commission and the concert promotion outfit, Another Planet Entertainment, which operates the auditorium.

To combat this scourge, Another Planet began using the building's outside speakers to blare a cacophony of the world's most jarring noises - chainsaws, motorcycles, jackhammers, an aircraft carrier alarm - in hopes of shooing the homeless off of its stoop.

The clamor, which begins nightly at 11 and continues until 7 a.m., prompted building manager Robert Reiter to comment to the paper, "I thought it was the building alarm going off."

Another Planet Vice President Mary Conde and founder Gregg Perloff said people attending events at Davies Symphony Hall and the War Memorial Opera House, both about two blocks away, had issued "an enormous amounts of complaints" about the homeless people in the area.

Blasting them with various "industrial" sounds, which Another Planet acquired from iTunes, has been "tremendously effective" so far, Conde said.

San Francisco has one of the worst homeless problems in the nation, according to the Chronicle, which has an entire special section devoted to the issue on its website. According to the Coalition on Homelessness, about 37,000 households are on the waiting list for housing, 6,000 people in the city experience homelessness each night and 2,200 homeless children are enrolled in public schools.

The problem gets worse each year, despite the city's spending $200 million annually to combat it, according to the newspaper. In March 2011, police began enforcing what is known as a sit-lie ordinance, which fines repeat offenders who sit or lie on public sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. - the hours when jackhammer and chainsaw noises aren't emanating from the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium speakers.

Though some business owners say the sit-lie law has been a success, the ordinance was frowned upon by local homeless proponents prior to being approved by city voters. A national advocacy group in December cited the law in giving San Francisco low marks for its handling of the city's homeless.

It would appear that Another Planet's tactic for dispersing the homeless is being received similarly.

"What (expletive)  behavior," said Oscar McKinney, a homeless man who said he had 6,100 quality-of-life citations who was chased out of the area by the overnight noise coming from the auditorium, according to the Chronicle.

Sonic warfare has been used as a psychological tactic to run folks out of an area in the past. In the 1993 Waco, Texas, siege, the FBI reportedly "used bagpipes, screeching seagulls, dying rabbits, sirens, dentist drills, and Buddhist chants" in an effort to flush Koresh and the Branch Davidians out of their compound, according to author Steve Goodman.

The method was also employed in 1989 when U.S. troops surrounded the Vatican embassy in Panama City, Panama, where Noriega and some his men had taken refuge. The troops directed loudspeakers at the embassy and played Christmas music all day on December 25.

The following day, the U.S. Southern Command radio station began taking requests from soldiers and played a variety of appropriately titled songs for the next few days, including the Rolling Stones' "Rock and a Hard Place" and The Animals' "We Gotta Get Out of This Place."

It didn't work. Noriega remained in the embassy until January 3, five days after the music stopped.

(For the complete Noriega playlist, click on pages 4-6 of this document at George Washington University's National Security Archive.)

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Filed under: California • Civil Rights • Economy • Housing • Jobs • San Francisco • U.S.
soundoff (490 Responses)
  1. john smith

    Where do the homeless go? Our system is so divided it is sickening. The conservatives want trickle down, which will take lots of time, if at all. The progressive want government infrastructure rebuilt to get the economy moving now. You don't have to know much about economics to know which one will help rebuild America.

    May 3, 2012 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
    • flox

      progressives have run san fran for decades. most of their (progressives) cities have the highest level of these junkies and lunatics. your policies have been proven failures.

      May 3, 2012 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. alan

    WE need work gulags for people who have fallen out of society and refuse to work or have addiction problems. They should get mental health care but need to get off the street and stop acting like vermin....

    May 3, 2012 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Skater Chick

      @ Alan : Sounds like Nationalist Socialism...but in a weird way, I actually agree with you.

      May 3, 2012 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  3. Duane

    I guess we have forgotten these are people, not pigeons. San Francisco always claims to be "enlightened" and comes up with laws and rules that promote their citizens even when it places the burden on business owners yet as a city government they refuse to help their homeless in hopes they will just go away.....pathetic

    May 3, 2012 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  4. Logic

    If CNN stated the facts correct, San Fran spends $200 million/year fighting 6,000 average homeless per night. That's $91 per night per homeless person. That's insanity or bad reporting. Not suggesting this as the best solution, but San Fran could give a $450 check monthly to all 37,000 households for the same $200 million. What is needed is for people to think intelligently, because the only result of kicking the homeless out of one area is that more will be spent to kick them right back.

    May 3, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Skater Chick

      @ Logic : My concern would be that after receiving a $450 check, a lot of those people would use the money to purchase drugs.

      May 3, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Flatsguide

      But they wouldn't be in YOUR area.

      May 3, 2012 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  5. Thinker

    New Rule for comments: You have to sing John Lennon's "Imagine" while posting you comment

    May 3, 2012 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  6. fresheating

    Why don't they use that 220 million to make more homeless shelters so they dont have to sleep on the street.

    May 3, 2012 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Doosh-LaRooush

      That would be so UN GoP

      May 3, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  7. Coastal0ne

    "In March 2011, police began enforcing what is known as a sit-lie ordinance, which fines repeat offenders who sit or lie on public sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m."
    They're fining people who are homeless. If they can't afford a place to live, they can't afford a fine.

    May 3, 2012 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Yanishka Ortega

      Yep, that is rediculous. Build more shelters, clean up the streets, and give them something to do "job"

      May 3, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  8. LuisWu

    It's shameful the way America treats its poor and homeless. In New York City, you see mentally ill people wandering the streets talking to themselves, they're dirty and some are sick. You don't see that in London or Paris or other "civilized" cities of the world. How you treat the mentally ill and homeless says something about the character of the citizens of your country.

    May 3, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  9. Noe

    Extermination?? Natural Selection? Just sayin!

    May 3, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  10. East of Eden

    The way this economy is, you can find highly skilled homeless people with BA's and MS' so don't be quick to pigeon-hole people.

    May 3, 2012 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
  11. jim

    Unleash some lions or better yet, some hyienas or something on them. Good grief

    May 3, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Randy from Tulsa

      You are not only ignorant but you are also a hypocrite.

      May 3, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jon Torok

    Duane, these people are worse than pigeons because they make a bigger mess. If they didn't leave such a huge mess/stink, people wouldn't care.

    May 3, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  13. Atlantaphotog

    Atlanta has about the 2nd worst problem with this. This is not a "sonic" deterrent – they're just playing obnoxious noises over speakers. There are new sonic devices being tested by police and the military that "rattle" someone's insides then the devices are aimed at them and make them so physically uncomfortable they feel they have to leave the vicinity when they get hit by it. Use those. Hey, someone who bugs people for money all day and pees on their own feet isn't going to be deterred by the sound of a chainsaw or motorcycle – having their teeth knocked loose sonically from their heads might get their attention, though.

    May 3, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  14. MakeMeAware

    SanFran Spent 200 Milliion to assit the homeless. The US Government spends thats in a few hours chasing the Taliban. I just read an article on CNN the the US Military has 40 Billion Dollars of new and used combat trucks that are now obsolete. So don't qoute me price for helping the homeless its BS. They just aren't a priority for the USA.

    May 3, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  15. Randy from Tulsa

    I think it's rather saddening that people think of these people like they are animals.What if someone you love was homeless? why steriotype all homeless as being druggies and drunks?Ignorance is what this is:Contempt prior to investigation-look it up. How many homeless people have YOU sat down with and had a conversation with?What are the facts that you found out?Were any of these people ex-military,that fought for your freedom?Did any of them have mental illnesses that kept them from holding a job?The people that replied in a negative manner on this should be ashamed of themselves! Do not spit on the "Bum" as you drive by-You never know where you might be in 10 years...

    May 3, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      Just have a few move in with you. Then you can talk to them all you want, understand them and be stuck with them the rest of your life. If you want to make a difference – well do it.

      May 3, 2012 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
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