We’ve been hearing a lot about the mayor’s race, but not much about the race for district attorney. Yesterday afternoon, the California Music and Culture Association (CMAC), a year-old consortium of lawyers, nightclub owners and nightclub owners who happen to be lawyers, hosted a forum for the three main candidates with questions that could be described as all nightlife, all the time. Below, a few highlights.
David Onek, former San Francisco police commissioner, founding executive director of the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice, host of the Criminal Justice Conversations Podcast.
San Francisco’s high-quality music and entertainment continue to draw tourism dollars, all of which helps us fund important social programs for our citizens.
Our problems in the past have been violence surrounding nightclubs and a bad economy. We have less young people living in the city because they lost their jobs. We want more young people to come by the nightclubs, spend money and have a good time. Our most critical goal for the future is maintain SF’s vibrant nightlife, while at the same time keep the public safe from nightclub violence. Possibly also to attract more tourists.
Our biggest failure is repeat offenders getting arrested for small crimes and wasting the city’s money.
Music is a constitutionally protected form of free speech. Vibrant cultural offerings bring people out at night, where their “eyeballs on the street” make us all safer.
That’s why I took a strong stand against the recent proposal to mandate venues to swipe patrons’ identification cards and keep this personal information on record for subsequent police review, and to place metal detectors at some venues with occupancy levels exceeding 100, among other requirements. This poorly conceived proposal was conceived by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) and personally approved by then-Chief George Gascón. It was thankfully tabled by Mayor Ed Lee.
Sharmin Bock, prosecutor, Alameda County. If elected will be the first American of Iranian descent to serve as a district attorney in the United States. 96% conviction rate in cases brought to trial.
Over the last century, San Francisco has earned its reputation as a world-class destination for artists, entertainers and performers because our city has always been open to creativity and tolerant of free expression. Promoting that spirit is an integral part of our urban cultural fabric and a key reason so many people are excited to live here, work here or come spend their nights and weekends — and money — having fun here in San Francisco. We can balance public safety needs while promoting and supporting our vibrant artistic and cultural community.
George Gascon, current district attorney, former chief of SFPD. Appointed by Gavin Newsom after Kamala Harris became state attorney general last year.
As chief of police, I created the position of liaison to the industry and assigned now-retired Commander Kitt Crenshaw to represent me. I wanted to create a cooperative environment of trust and mutual respect.
I personally met CMAC members to listen to their concerns. I directed the creation of Community Police Advisory Boards (CPABs) at each station to have local captains work closely with the communities they served. Part of Southern Police Station’s CPAB included an entertainment industry subcommittee composed of club operators and neighbors.
Under my leadership, the work of this subcommittee was highlighted as an example of “best practices” during our 2010 citywide annual CPAB summit.
During my tenure as police chief, relationships between the police and the industry improved substantially, and together we were able to improve safety around entertainment venues thoughtfully.
How do you anticipate interacting with the SFPD and City Hall when there is a violent incident at a nightclub or at a street fair that is publicized in the press?
Onek: My entire career — in community-based organizations, in criminal justice reform organizations and in city government positions — has been about taking collaborative approaches to public safety and criminal justice.
Bock: I would spearhead the formation of a coalition, along with representatives from SFPD, the mayorʼs office, business and community members, to formulate a response that preserves and promotes public safety, culture and local industry.
Gascon: I have many years of experience handling complex and emotional incidents of violence involving media attention. I would handle it the same way we handle any other incident of violence.
Also, I will ensure my office avoids sensationalism and emotionally driven responses.
How important do you perceive nightlife in San Francisco to be to the economy and culture of San Francisco?
Onek: San Francisco nightlife contributes vital jobs, tax revenue and tourism dollars to our local economy. It is part of our cultural landscape and should be considered an economic asset to the city.
Bock: Nightlife is essential. San Francisco is a forward-thinking city that attracts so many bright and talented people because it is a center for creativity and entertainment. Thatʼs why so many of us came here or decided to stay here and raise our kids here. If you donʼt want nightlife, San Francisco is not your town.
Gascon: I believe the entertainment and music industry is central to the economic and cultural well being of SF. We are a tourist destination, and the entertainment industry plays a major role in attracting visitors to the city to support our local economy.
Would you consider a nightlife liaison within the office of the district attorney who has regular communication with the San Francisco Entertainment Commission and CMAC, especially when incidents occur? If so, would you be willing to facilitate regular communication with your liaison and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control enforcement leadership?
Onek: I believe that fostering collaboration and regular communication between agencies is essential for government to be effective. With this in mind, I do commit to having a nightlife liaison within the office of the district attorney, and to facilitate communication between the liaison and ABC.
Bock: The easy answer a politician would probably give here is yes. But Iʼm not a politician — Iʼm a prosecutor. Iʼm not running for district attorney to become some kind of middle manager who passes off problems to other people when things get tough. I will make sure my office is fully engaged with both the entertainment community and ABC leadership.
Gascon: I plan to create a model similar to the once I implemented in the SFPD. We are currently in the process of creating special interest-based DA liaisons. One of these will be entertainment industry-based.
What are your relations with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control?
Onek: As district attorney, I would look forward to working with ABC to foster a productive relationship that benefits San Francisco’s citizens and businesses.
Bock: I am extremely comfortable making tough calls based on the facts and the law, no matter who sits on the other side of the table.
Gascon: I maintain a professional relationship with all law enforcement partners, including ABC.
Do you play a musical instrument?
Onek: Unfortunately, I am not musically gifted myself. My daughters are very talented musically and just appeared in a production of “Aladdin,” with my older daughter Olivia playing the lead role of Jasmine.
Bock: When I was a little younger, I sang in a jazz band and played acoustic guitar for four years. I still have my Martin D35, and dusted it off not long ago. My plans to start a band with some friends lost steam after I decided to run for district attorney.
Gascon: I played congas in a children’s salsa combo.