San Francisco Follow-UpMay 28, 2009 By: Bryan Bass
In our first Nightclub Confidential e-newsletter, we addressed the ongoing battle in San Francisco between city officials, the San Francisco Police Department and the SF Entertainment Commission as it appeared to be nearing an end, with special hearings scheduled in hopes that any approved legislation would be implemented before the summer. This week, we saw both a small step forward and a large step sideways as the city’s Board of Supervisors passed a new law making it illegal to loiter outside area nightclubs but added new amendments to a pending proposal that would give the Entertainment Commission more teeth to go after the permits of venues who are not promoting or sustaining safe environments for their patrons. With the addition of the new amendments, the hearing and vote has now been officially postponed until sometime in June.
The new loitering law defines a loiterer as someone who remains a pedestrian for more than three minutes within 10 feet from the entrance of a club. However, the law does not prohibit waiting in line to enter a club, being present in a designated smoking area, waiting for transportation or any lawful activity more than 10 feet from the club’s entrance.
While arguments have arisen that the new law is a violation of First Amendment rights, the Entertainment Commission is quick to point out that the law is only enacted during nightclub operating hours and that it is structured to include warnings and enable a venue’s security team to hopefully resolve problems without involving the police. “Folks who are unable to gain entry (for whatever reason) or are ejected from these venues need to walk on,” said EC spokesperson Jocelyn Kane. Kane noted that when a nightclub altercation takes place, usually only one party is ejected, leaving open the opportunity for round two to take place after the nightclub closes. “They know that other person is coming out eventually, and we can’t have that.”
Supporters are cautiously optimistic that the law won’t be challenged, citing the Supreme Court’s tradition of vetoing anti-loitering laws that contain a discriminatory nature, noting this one does not.
The Entertainment Commission had requested the special hearing take place before Memorial Day weekend in the hopes that the new legislation could be in place, or at least moving forward, before the summertime. “We know that in the summer months the days are longer, the evenings are warmer and people spend more time outdoors,” Kane says, referring to the propensity for increased violence during the warmer months. “We wanted to move this legislation forward because even after it passes, we have a long way to go.”
With delays ongoing, frustrations continue to mount. Kane surmised that the reasoning was “Political, I imagine,” and she isn’t alone. Terrance Alan, a club owner and member of the EC told the San Francisco Examiner, “We’ve been at this for 16 months, and every time we go to a hearing we’re handed something new. It’s beginning to feel as if they don’t want this to pass.” At the heart of the struggle remains the SFPD, which seems unwilling to empower the commission, although they have few motives other than the safety of club-goers and the rights of operators. While the next committee hearing waits for scheduling, the EC expects even more changes and amendments made to the proposal the next time around. “We are just trying to keep nightlife in our city safe,” Kane says. If SF sees a spike in nightclub violence during the coming summer heat, the city can’t say it wasn’t warned.