S.F. may soon see psychics regulated

Pioneering proposal would ban trickery
San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 20, 2002
Steve Rubenstein, Chronicle Staff Writer

The future looked cloudy for dozens of fortune-tellers and psychics in San Francisco on Thursday after legislation was proposed to require them to obtain permits, post their rates and stop tricking their clients.

Under the law, the first of its kind for a major U.S. city, fortune-tellers would no longer be allowed to perform such classic curse removals as the knot in the thread, the blood in the glass, or the hair in the grapefruit.

The bury-the-money trick would be outlawed, too.

“Everyone is going to think this is a little bit hokey,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, introducing his ordinance at the Hall of Justice.

“But it’s not hokey if it’s your money that’s being taken,” chimed in District Attorney Terence Hallinan, who is backing the proposal.

At present, San Francisco fortune-tellers need only possess a business license. The new law would force them to pay about $500 for a permit and would deny permits to convicted swindlers and thieves.

Police fraud inspectors say dozens of San Franciscans lose large amounts of money every year to fortune-tellers who charge $500 and up for weekly visits and who dupe clients with sleight-of-hand demonstrations of their “powers.”

The tricks, banned under the new law, include the knot in the thread (the fortune-teller makes a knot disappear) and the blood in the glass (the fortune- teller asks a client to spit into a glass of water, then secretly adds black dye to show the client is cursed).

Also banned would be the hair in the grapefruit (the client rubs a grapefruit on his body and covers it with money, and the fortune-teller then plants a hair inside the grapefruit to prove the money is cursed, and keeps the money) and the buried money in the graveyard (the fortune-teller promises to bury a client’s “cursed” money in a graveyard, but keeps it instead).

Peskin introduced a 36-year-old San Francisco woman who lost $17,000 last year to a Richmond District fortune-teller.

The fortune-teller charged the victim hundreds of dollars per visit and tricked her into buying two $2,000 gift certificates at Union Square stores. The fortune-teller said she would bless the gift certificates and return them to her lovelorn client, so that she could give the certificates to her estranged husband and win him back. Instead, the fortune-teller used the certificates herself.

“I don’t know why I believed her,” recalled the victim, who did not want to be identified. “It was so stupid. I lost my sanity, I guess.”

The proposed law, which comes before the Board of Supervisors next month, covers fortune-telling by not only crystal balls, tarot cards and astrology charts, but by “sticks, dice, tea leaves, coins, sand and coffee grounds” as well. Fortune-tellers would be required to post rate cards and a phone number for complaints. Police say requiring permits would make it easier to keep tabs on swindlers.

The San Francisco Yellow Pages list no fewer than 105 psychics, 20 spiritual consultants and 17 astrologers. None of them seemed happy about the proposal.

“What a rip-off,” said Dionysia, Goddess of Light and Direction. “It’s just the city, capitalizing on folks trying to make a living. Terence Hallinan wouldn’t know a psychic if it hit him on the head.”

Peskin said fortune-telling is an “age-old industry that is welcome in San Francisco” and said he did not want to discourage legitimate, modestly priced psychics, seers, tarot card readers or sellers of fortune cookies, a plate of which was on the table where Peskin spoke.

At the end of his announcement, Peskin picked up a cookie and cracked it open.

“You will be fortunate in everything you put your hands to,” said the slip of paper inside the supervisor’s cookie.

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This post was last updated: Monday, November 30, -0001 at 12:00 AM, Central European Time (CET)