Legislation aimed at improving the San Francisco Entertainment Commission’s ability to shut down “bad apple” nightclubs was approved Monday by the three-member City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee and will soon go to the full Board of Supervisors.
“With additional tools and new directions,” said Supervisor Bevan Dufty to the hundreds of residents who attended the meeting, “I think we can work together to address problems without creating a chilling effect on entertainment.”
The proposed amendments to the police code will refine the permitting process for clubs and venues, grant emergency suspension powers to the director of the Entertainment Commission to address immediate public safety and noise violations, clarify the application requirements for nightclubs open past 2 a.m. and require more security for after-hours establishments.
Neighbors upset by the noise and violence coming from nightclubs said they feared the changes would increase the number of clubs operating after hours and give the commission too much power over public safety concerns.
Some who attended the meeting said the police could better handle such issues, as they did until the commission was founded in 2002.
Clubgoers, owners and employees—as well as a brass band on the City Hall steps—were at the meeting in far greater numbers than those opposing the changes. They believe expanding the commission’s powers will only help residents address concerns about violence.
“Late nights, it’s like a state of seige,” said Bill McElhiney, who lives in the Mission District near Potrero Avenue and opposes the legislation. “I don’t see how extending the hours is going to improve an already intolerable situation.”
“I have had to call SFPD 100 times in the past year,” said Tyler Krehlik. “If you want proof of why I need to call, come dig the bullet out of my living room wall.” The bullet, he said, was shot from inside the club across the street.
Another resident showed a video of brawls, motorcycles and long lines outside nightclubs in the Tenderloin and Union Square.
Others felt that the threat nightclubs pose to public safety was overstated.
“There is more violence in our schools and on Muni,” said José Segue of the CalAmericana Association.
Of those who spoke in favor of the changes, many cited the cultural capital and jobs that the local entertainment industry creates. San Francisco’s permissive attitude towards nightlife, some said, is how the city birthed so many counter-culture movements. Others argued that a more powerful commission would create solutions, not problems, to the violence and noise.
“The Entertainment Commission should have power to deal with loitering and queue lines,” said Cory Knudson, an articulate 17-year-old with long hair and studs on his jacket, who travels from Vacaville twice a month to see shows at places like Slim’s. “Final decision should be made by citizen stakeholders through the Entertainment Commission and not the police.”
“They are making us do a better job,” said Robbie Kowal, who owns Mojito in North Beach, Sunset Promotions, North Beach Jazz Fest and a number of other entertainment ventures. “It is very interesting that an industry is speaking in favor of its regulation.”
Before the commission, Kowal told Mission Loc@l, there was no rational process for addressing citizen complaints. Now if a neighbor complains about noise, he said, the commission sends out a sound tester to make recommendations if more soundproofing is needed.
“Venues in particular are unfairly targeted,” said Michael Casey, a sound engineer and musician who relies on nightclubs “to practice art and earn a living.”
The debate spilled outside the hearing room, as Mission resident Judy West said she is exasperated by the shootings, car burnouts and guns outside Circolo on Mariposa and Florida streets. The club has become an “unbelievable magnet for violence” and has turned their otherwise quiet street into a playground for drug dealers and pimps, she said.
“A stronger Entertainment Commission would be able to handle these issues,” responded Michael Winger, co-chair of the Recording Academy San Francisco chapter. “If I were you, I’d be angry at the police.”
There appeared to be significant confusion among attendees about what the proposed legislation would mean for late-night permits. Supervisor David Chiu stressed repeatedly that the wording would enable to commission to “cite, regulate and shut down these [problem] clubs.”
The proposed amendments would partially cap the number of late-night permits if the total number of new permits grows by more than 15 percent in a year. Of the 106 businesses permitted as “extended-hours premises,” 45 are bars or nightclubs, only four of which are in the Mission. The rest are all-night donut shops, diners and taquerías, of which seven are in the Mission.
At Supervisor Chris Daly’s request, the extended-hours cap will be voted on separately from the rest of the amendments at the full board meeting.
Underlying the criticism of the new legislation seemed to be a deeper mistrust of the commission, which has drawn criticism for being padded with insiders and was reprimanded by a 2007 Civil Grand Jury for lacking operational procedures and communication with police.
“The Entertainment Commission has had some significant ethical conflict,” Chiu acknowledged. “[It] needs more transparency. Too many decisions [are made] behind closed doors.”
Of the five current commission members, the SF Weekly reported in July, only two do not have financial ties to the entertainment industry.
Some provisions of the new legislation attempt to make the commission more publicly accountable—such as a new requirement to produce quarterly reports detailing all complaints and their resolution.
Chiu also suggested that the Public Safety Committee would work to assess nightclub violence and whether or not the commission is doing its job in “regulating the bad apples.”
“If there are problems, we will [introduce] additional reforms,” he said.