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.

Residents disagreed.

“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.

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Vanessa loves reporting for Mission Loc@l because of the many ways it deepens her connection to the Mission District, which she has called home for the past four years.

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  1. Tom, I feel as if you are freely reinterpreting the legislation at hand. The very idea that entertainment interests are “about to take over” is preposterous. Most venues run with a very thin profit margin. Venue-ownership/music promotion is not a career one gets into to become rich. Where clubs locate is decided by the suitability and affordability of the spaces. If you have an issue with a club near you, that is something you should take up with the owner of the building. A city-wide ban on clubs is not the answer to your particular noise complaints.

    I myself am a resident of San Francisco, do not work in the entertainment industry, and I personally testified in favor of this legislation. Uniform enforcement benefits everyone by leveling the playing field. Its a very good idea.

    as for clubs=violence, I myself live on the 24th street corridor that has seen three gun murders in the last 4 months, all of which happened in broad daylight, and two of which happened the same weekend. These shootings were not associated with clubs or club-goers. You can’t make clubs a scapegoat for crime in this city. Its the economy, and crime has gotten worse all over town.

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  2. The legislation has been in the works for almost 20 months, during which time no local media got close to the reality of what it proposes.

    The two-part legislation, first, allows for the creation of a massive “early-morning” entertainment industry, 2-6:00 a.m., in our densest residential mixed-use districts, including South of Market, the Mission, the Tenderloin, Nob Hill, Chinatown, and North Beach. Besides ensuring annual increase in permanent “early-morning” permits, it establishes a new temporary One-Time Event Permit, which might be used for a dance, an underage dance, or event, 2-6:00 a.m., even in open outdoor spaces next to residences, for which no advance notice to the neighborhood would be required. A cap system proposed on such permits has loopholes sufficient to allow unlimited ongoing issuance of temporary events citywide.

    The legislation finalizes the entertainment industry’s takeover of residential San Francisco neighborhoods for intensified commercial use round the clock.

    As anyone familiar with the issues will tell you, the clubbing industry couldn’t thrive in the residential districts it’s targeting, without dominating the resident population—a fact understood by any legitimate legislator or enforcement agency.

    The legislation secondly allows the Entertainment Commission (EC) to capture the appeals process for denial or suspension of entertainment permits, under the guise of giving the EC more power to discipline problem clubs. An appeal could be heard before the EC (not the independent Board of Appeals), creating a leverage mechanism potentially based in kickback, the efficacy of which might depend on EC anticipation of what the market can bear and how much cash the EC needs.

    Any new suspension authority for permits is mitigated, such that the public safety could not be immediately protected. Minimum notice of eight hours is required and appeals provisions could postpone suspension proceedings up to 25 days or more.

    Provisions of the legislation eradicate resident voice and minimize police influence in the permitting process.

    Of extreme concern is that the “early-morning” entertainment industry particularly targets youth, the most likely market for club activity in venues that cannot sell alcohol after 2:00 a.m. Against all logic, the legislation protects persons with relatively recent criminal backgrounds from full public disclosure. Not only is the window of disclosure shortened from seven to five years, but also the disclosure need only be made for offenses committed in relation to operations of an entertainment venue.

    The combined factors of youth, potential felonious events sponsors, and business operations, 2-6:00 a.m., threaten the public morals. The subtext of the legislation appears to support criminal intent.

    Moreover, this legislation ignores a crisis of violence and clubbing acknowledged by the media and un-addressed by City Hall.

    Mayor Gavin Newsom sponsors this legislation, which prolongs the crisis or violence until 6:00 a.m. and ensures victimization of residents.

    If Gav wants to be Gov, he’d better be prepared to show the state that he can deal with basic law-enforcement matters, such as permitting nightclubs, in some manner other than criminally stripping vulnerable populations of their homes and neighborhoods.

    Tom Ferriole
    Citizens United for Neighborhood Planning

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