The San Francisco Board of Appeals voted 3-2 late Wednesday to postpone a decision regarding the legality of the popular rooftop bar at Medjool Restaurant Café on Mission Street.
Instead, it agreed to the restaurant owner Gus Murad’s request to schedule a later meeting where he will report on his progress to legalize the roof through the Planning Commission.
In effect, the decision gives Murad time to present his case for a conditional use permit to the Planning Department without accruing fees of $250 per day. In doing so, the board found Murad has so far acted in good faith in dealing with the noise concerns of his neighbors.
Murad, who served on the Small Business Commission for Mayor Newsom and has hosted political fundraisers for the mayor, has run a Save Medjool campaign for more than a year. It includes fundraisers for local non-profits on the rooftop bar, a Facebook page with 1,632 members and a website where the owner argues that closing the five-year-old rooftop bar would eliminate 62 jobs.
The main opposition to the bar comes from the San Francisco Buddhist Center located behind Medjool at 37 Bartlett St.
Viveka Chen from the center said that despite meeting with Murad twice in January about installing noise walls, they are considering asking Medjool to limit the number of people allowed on the roof-deck because the parties are loud. This is not a position they have formerly adopted, she said.
She cited Foreign Cinema, a restaurant near Medjool that shows films in its outdoor dining space, as a considerate neighbor that soundproofed the Buddhist Center and reached out to them before opening in 1999. The soundproof installed then, she said, fails to protect the center from the noise created by Medjool.
PJ Johnston, Murad’s spokesman and president of the San Francisco Arts Commision, was skeptical. “You know what the good faith effort is? Payoff. No wonder they have good feelings about Foreign Cinema,” he said. “The Buddhist Center is so determined to get their pound of flesh out of Gus Murad — that’s shocking to me.”
Chen objected saying they don’t want a payoff or to shut down the roof — they just want assurance that it will be quieter.
“Relationships would have been a lot better if he had approached us from the start,” Chen said. “It helps me to know that it’s not going to get louder, since that’s the case we want to get that in writing and characterize that in the permit.”
Chen argued that some 100 members use the center and even though noise has decreased recently, there is no guarantee it will remain that way unless they make it a requirement in the conditional use permit.
Murad’s attorney Bret Gladstone told the board that they are complying with the conditional use process in legalizing the permit. That means the size of the roof-deck might decrease.
It is unclear when the Planning Commission will schedule the item.
Installing the sound inhibitors the Board of Appeals asked for in December, could exempt Medjool from filing a long and extensive environmental review when their case is heard at the Planning Commission, said Craig Nikitas from the Planning Department. Nikitas issued the initial notice of violation last year.
Gladstone warned that if the board failed to give them more time, either Medjool or the Planning Department would shut down their roof-deck altogether.
Commissioner Rafael Mandelman, who is running for Supervisor in District 8, voted against more time.
“What is so upsetting to me about this case is the prolonged operation of an establishment that is having impacts on neighbors where those neighbors have no forum in which to have those concerns heard,” Mandelman said.
Commissioner Michael Garcia said, however, that he doesn’t mind continuing the item to help Medjool.
“The greatest incentive for me about why we’re going through this process and entertaining similar comments twice now and possibly a third time has to do with the preservation of jobs,” Garcia said.