Public commenters both for and against Medjool filled the meeting chamber and an overflow room.

After nearly two hours of public comment, the Board of Appeals voted 4-1 to give the popular Medjool the benefit of the doubt, giving the restaurant until February 10 to obtain the necessary permits for operation of their rooftop bar.

The board, however, suggests that Medjool needs to get a conditional use authorization from the planning department for their roof.

Member of the public peeks inside the hearing room to find open space
Member of the public peeks inside the hearing room to find open space

In the meantime, Medjool can continue operating their rooftop bar without accruing any fees because the case is still on appeal by the board.

When Medjool goes back before the board on Feb. 10, the restaurant and its owner, Gus Murad, need to show they are acting in “good faith” by showing progress in getting the conditional authorization. If they do not, the board may force them to shut down the rooftop.

“One of the benefits [of waiting until Feb. 10] is it deals better with ongoing penalties,” Commissioner Michael Garcia said to the board.

The alternative would be that “we can decide they did not act in good faith and we can uphold the violation and let them sail the waters of the conditional use process on their own.”

The board also said that they would consider that Medjool immediately implement some noise limitations in “good faith,” which their representative suggested, such as no more live music and a tarp around the roof deck. This would address the concern of Buddhist temple behind the restaurant and some residents in the hotel that complained about the noise caused by the parties on the roof.

PJ Johnston, a spokesman for the restaurant owner Gus Murad said that they will continue their application for the conditional use authorization and will comply with the noise issues immediately.

Viveka Chen of the San Francisco Buddhist Center, established in 1994 behind what is now Medjool, said that his lawyer only approached them yesterday.

She added that unlike Medjool, Foreign Cinema, an adjacent restaurant, approached them about noise concerns and has been considerate.
Foreign Cinema addressed their concerns she said by conducting noise levels even before the restaurant opened in 1999.

The controversy began earlier this year when owner Gus Murad benefited from a typo correction and a mayoral veto of that correction that granted his Mission theater project an extra 20-foot height allowance, bringing it to 85 feet, instead of the 65 approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Some saw this as a direct benefit from contributions Murad made to mayor Gavin Newsom’s campaigns and initiatives and fundraisers he has held for him.

It was also found that he did not file required single-room occupancy reports for his Elements Hotel, and did not properly rent out rooms to longer-term low-income tenants.

On Feb. 20, Shortly after the veto for the Mission Theater was signed, the planning department sent a notice of violation from acting zoning administrator Craig Nikitas that asserted the club’s rooftop bar was illegal because it was done without proper building permits and without the planning commission’s authorization.

The planning department knew it was operating illegally, but enforcement was put on hold during the development of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan because while the plans were being revised land-use restrictions might have changed, which would make the deck legal. When the plans became law in January, they did not include a provision for Medjool.

Board Commissioner Michael Garcia said the planning department’s action “makes sense.”

The only vote against the extension was Commissioner Rafael Mandelman, who is running for Supervisor in District 8.

Johnston said he has mixed feelings about the board’s decision.

“For Gus to engage in a longer legal fight a whole year, to finally be told he has to wait longer and there is no guarantee it will be solved is a tough pill to swallow,” Johnston said.

He added that he hopes they can obtain this authorization quickly but expressed concerns that they dependent on the speed of the planning department.

The majority of the speakers, which ranged from non-profit directors to nearby neighbors spoke in favor of Medjool.

Many of them told the board that Murad contributed to helping the Mission become a safer place.

Alfredo Pedroza, a member of the lower 24th street merchants association and a liaison to the Latino community for the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, said the Mission needs more people like Murad.

“Medjool revitalized the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s not just Medjool that’s hanging in the balance.”

Miguel Bustos of the San Francisco redevelopment agency said that Murad has been making a positive impact since he came to the Mission in 1978.

“For those of us that live here, we need people like him,” he told the Board.

Hala Hijazi, who formerly worked for the Economic Development Agency under mayor Willie Brown said she drives all the way from the Marina just to eat at Medjool’s.

“It is like the Nordstroms of restaurants,” she said.

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Rigoberto Hernandez is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He has interned at The Oregonian and The Orange County Register, but prefers to report on the Mission District. In his spare time he can be found riding his bike around the city, going to Giants games and admiring the Stable building.

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