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. Razer Ray

    Isn't the city allowing the operators of this commercial facility to violate noise ordinances so they can violate the human rights of the houseless in San Francisco? Why is the city not citing the operators of the venue?

    Also, if San Francisco is anything like where I live, 90 miles South, Santa Cruz, most of the houseless people you'll meet on the street are natives and long time local residents displaced by gentrification and the utter lack of planning for housing/jobs for ALL OF the people in the city.

    There's gotta be a RICO Act violation in the process that allowed that.

    May 4, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Ms. D

    To all the people thart are making nasty comment sabout homeless people: Please remember that every homeless person is NOT homeless b/c of bad decisions. Sometimes life happens to you and people need help. When I was a kid in Brooklyn we were robbed of EVERYTHING. We had to stay at differnt frineds of my mother for months until she was able to get back on her feet. However, if it wsnt for her friends we proably would of been on the streets too..

    * praying that the horrilbe people commenting gain a conscience.*

    May 4, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. esboella

    And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'"
    (Matthew 25.35-40 ESV)

    May 5, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Lenny

    If the police are spending over 200.000.00 a year would it not be better to take an old apartment building fix it up and get these people off the street and some help. Also help the ones who can get back on there feet and return to a productive state in the community.

    May 6, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bill

    Psychological warfare on the poor.

    Is the city really spending $200 million a year on this? Where is the money going?

    May 6, 2012 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
  6. Keepalowprofile

    What next??


    May 6, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. KimItemMinistries

    I met a very old badly sunburned homeless man many years ago on the Santa Cruz Beach pier. My husband and I had just finished our anniversary lunch together in one the places we love to eat. I had saved 1/2 my meal, untouched. When we finished our lunch, I went out back onto the pier with my husband. I looked and saw the homeless man sitting in a shaded space all alone, tired. I walked over the homeless man and as I stooped down to offer him my untouched meal. The homeless man took it and he said to me with gratefulness; "Thank you." I then showed him a Christian word on paper on Jesus as I handed it to him. His eyes lit up as he smiled brightly at me and said joyfully that he did not need it; "But, he said, it's because, I already know Jesus, He is my best friend, my everything." I asked the homeless man who was now filled with joy and even more happiness than when I had first met him if he would like to take it and give it to someone else? The homeless man replied back to me; "It would do no good, they won't listen anyways.
    I went away happy he had a full tummy. But more happy that he knew Jesus, and even more happy that one day I would see him in heaven- Yes, he would be in heaven one day with his best friend.

    May 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • simon

      Yes, I'm sure it satisfied your own sense of guilt, however I'm sure this guy would actually prefer a job and a home than to cling on to some antideluvian concept of a magic man who we all go and live with when we die and live happily ever after, c'mon use your grey matter!

      May 7, 2012 at 7:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Dale Richardson

      Wow, you generous person! You gave a homeless man your table scraps, like a dog, as a precept to push your religion onto him, and how delighted were you to see he already had it! Skip merrily away back to your trust fund home feeling you've done your good deed for a lifetime and go live with your mythical god in the sky. I bet you stamp your feet when they try to raise your taxes by 1% though.

      May 7, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Boston Kate

      You made this all about you.

      May 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Robert B. Livingston

    The homeless congregate near the auditorium because it is close to City Hall and medical help at the Tom Waddell Health Clinic, and the library which is one of the very few places anymore with free toilets.

    Of the literally hundreds, if not thousands, of homeless in the area– their impact on the quality of life is negligible.

    Many people do not understand that sound properties are physical properties that actually touches and assaults others– and is not physically harmless or benign like words, argument, or free speech.

    San Francisco is becoming an increasingly benighted and cruel place.

    May 12, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Rascal Rabble

    what can you expect from the seat of satan...

    August 3, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Heather Westcott

    I think they lied. Industrial noises tremendously effective? Isn't that the lullaby of San Francisco? They should've tried classical or christian music. Or sounds of nature. No one would've been able to sleep at all and they would've left.

    January 29, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
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