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. Farm

    This is BS. Aren't they violating noise ordinances? Doesn't anyone know what it is like to be homeless? Do you know how degrading it is to be homeless? Do you really think anyone in this God Damn world wants to be homeless? I understand your right to live but don't destroy what little some of us have to live.

    May 2, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sharp

      Farm; Only humans are capable of doing inhuman things. The animals are so much more clean harted than people

      May 2, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • ThinkinForMe

      @Farm. Sadly, there are plenty of people who have it in their heads that homeless people want to be homeless. There are some who choose to be homeless though, but I think that's different. They're more like roamers or something than true "homeless." I met a 20 year old guy who was in college and came from a family with decent money, and he chose to sleep on the streets/nature etc.

      May 2, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. BP

    Is there a limit to how much we're supposed to give the homeless, any places they cannot be allowed to simply set up camp at sleep, urinate, defacate, or otherwise occupy at their leisure?

    If they can do it to the local auditorium, the library, city hall, why can't they do it in your front lawn?

    If you think it's unfair to push homeless people off of other people's property, when there exists an apparently well funded system in place for them, then you really should be perfectly OK with them setting up camp in your front and back yard, maybe even your driveway. That is, if it's all about helping others as some here have claimed...

    May 2, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. rukidding

    10% unemployment and all the authorities have to do is torment the homeless? Does anyone else see a problem with this? Surely there is something else that can be done instead of this . Where are we ? Ancient Rome?

    May 2, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Neal

    Funny you never see Mexicans homeless. If illegal Mexicans can make a living here...

    May 2, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      is because they cram 10 families ( illegally) into each apartment. They always break the law by being here, so what's another law to them

      May 2, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • ClaudeRaines

      Agreed. I've seen the evidence first hand...

      May 2, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dane

    David Koresh huh, yikes! Maybe he should move them all to his compound in Waco Texas

    May 2, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Zoglet

    What a horrible waste of taxpayers money. Create jobs. What a mean thing todo to those alreasy on skid row.

    May 2, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Easy E

    The best thing that can happen to a homeless person is to get them up off the street, detox them, and give them a structured life with 3 hots and a cot. Clean 'em up, and get them working, whether in landscaping, litter pick up, washing cars, whatever. Everyone can work, everyone can contribute, even without an education. I'd rather see homeless people doing something with their lives than destroying it with alcohol and drugs.

    May 2, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • ClaudeRaines

      While some are addicts, alot hace serious mental disorders or other health issues that are not being addressed. You cant just "clean up" someone dying of cancer or aids trying to live on SSI (if they qualify for it). I do appreciate the sentiment behind your response; those that are capable should do something constructive and contribute to society. The problem here is that there are NO programs to facilitate this. None. I know first hand. It really makes no sense as there are large amounts of human wastes (yes, really) on SF sidewalks, more than a few empty hotels and buildings that could be renovated for such programs (clean up the city and required trade education programs in exchange for room and board) just doesnt happen. The idea of pull yourself up by your boot straps sounds good sir, but when you have no boots its an impossibility.

      May 2, 2012 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doodlebug2222

      Sure, while that might help some homeless there are many that simply do not want to work. Some, like my ex, live off of his retirement. He goes to the churches for free food, he goes to the food pantry for free food, and he lives of food stamps. The main reason he went homeless was to avoid paying child support to me, and not do his taxes. So I've had to raise our five children alone, and pay back his share off the debts from the divorce when the bill collectors came after me, because he has no real cash flow they can take "easily". His friends? Retired and want to get drunk, get high and do as they may. He has a habit of letting the nice folks pick him up, clean him off, he even got in the newspaper once – and everyone thought I was soo evil for not letting him move in w/ me. I tried it, he stole from me, end of story. The thing is, he loves that cycle that many well intentioned people put him into. He gets that car they pool together to get him, he gets that veteran apartment w/ furniture, paid utilitles, he gets the job they help him obtain... After he's got the applause, the you can do it – he then gets drunk, never goes back and eventually starts all over again. Everything totally handed to him. Me? I've been struggling since 2002, paid his 1/2 of our debts ($20,000) because they started garnishing me $500 a month total and I'm not in good health anymore due to stress and the years. Him? Healthy, happy and .. well – everyones focused on him.. no ones wondering why he's there – and who he might of left behind to fend for themselves... huh.

      May 2, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. **cosmicVox *

    @Thinkin, Are you sure that's not Drinkin? All I did was report an observation. Once while visiting the Santa Monica pier I gave away about $20 to various people with their hands out. When I was down to my last quarter I gave it away to a person who sneered at me about being cheap. When I demanded it back, she ran off.

    May 2, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JH1

    Pretty sure that's the first time I've heard someone refer to a group of humans as a 'scourge.'

    May 2, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey1313

      I will say that all of the faux Christians making tokens of money but not helping there fellow man, they are a scourge on our nation.

      May 2, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Julie

      Yeah the 'scourge' statement definitely dehumanizes...humans. This writer obviously is biased and narrow minded.

      May 3, 2012 at 3:42 am | Report abuse |
  10. Kevin

    That's a public broadcast. I hope they are paying royalties on those recordings.

    May 2, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. mickey1313

    So are they getting the max fine for nose ordinance violation every night. Is there not a point when the city can and has to shut them down for said criminal activity

    May 2, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Nonpartisan

    How can Nancy Pelosi and her social ideals have allowed this to happen?
    Why is she voted in every 2 yrs?

    She is the minority leader[very recently was the house majority leader].
    why does this nation Allow San Francisco politics at the Helm?

    May 2, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Name*fred pape


    May 2, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Professorbiology

    The only way America can eliminate its homeless problem is to have an Arab spring.

    May 2, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Name*fred pape

    Double dufus

    May 2, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
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