When Does Public Safety Take Center Stage?July 23, 2009 By: Bryan Bass
Will the battle between San Francisco city officials ever end? If you’re a new reader to NC you can check out the original story, Battle by the Bay, here and the follow-up story here to get all caught up. The latest salvo came from the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice which wrote a memo last month to the Board of Supervisors president David Chiu, asking him to back off in the battle over the SF Entertainment Commission’s role and rights in stemming the ongoing increase in nightlife violence. Those rights include giving the commission the ability to close troubled venues for up to three days with as little as eight hours notice. New legislation has come up on multiple instances and has been delayed each time, most recently because of amendments added by Chiu and his office.
The memo, written by office of criminal justice honcho Kevin Ryan and obtained by the SF Weekly, attacks Chiu’s suggestion that any one-year increase of late-night events of more than 15 percent would automatically implement a cap on further permits, even though the language also includes one-time, late-night event permits. In the memo Ryan writes that, "Restricting nightlife in San Francisco could have downward effects on associated businesses — restaurants, bars, theaters and other activities which draw people into the city." Ryan also included in the eight-page memo three pages of mathematical formulas that have been described as ‘difficult-to-parse’ but are conceivably meant to demonstrate how even a small increase in permits would trigger the cap penalty. Chiu’s response was typically hard line, noting, "I think this letter continues to show that the MOCJ has just not been focused on the public safety, and has spent more time thinking about the interests of the late-night entertainment industry." And if we agree with anything here, it would be that this needs to be resolved by finding the middle ground between what’s good for the city and what’s good for the people; one wouldn’t think that line would be so fine.
As the saga continues, the city’s nightlife scene continues to witness more violent incidents, including two club-goers at the nightclub Impala being shot while inside the club; apparently, the incident is something predicted by Sam Young, the owner of Dragon Bar, which is located down the block from Impala. Young hasn’t been thrilled with the commission’s ability to control and punish the clubs where violence is happening, so after allegedly complaining numerous times to the commission, he wrote an email to city officials and journalists pleading for the authority of granting permits to be returned to the SF police department, where it resided until the commission was formed in 2003. "This should come as no surprise, since I stated numerous times that this would happen," read Young’s e-mail. "As usual, City Hall does absolutely nothing and now there is another shooting.”
The commission’s response hasn’t changed, noting that they don’t have the ability to close venues and that is exactly what the pending legislation would grant them the ability to do. Apparently, the close relationship between the Entertainment Commission and the industry they are supposed to police has become increasingly troublesome to community activists and some city officials. SF Weekly reported a few weeks back that five members of the seven-member panel have direct ties to the entertainment and nightlife business, and one holds an ownership stake in another venue, where multiple shootings have occurred within the last year. While two seats on the commission are reserved for industry professionals by statute, there actually are only two members of the commission without any connections to the industry. When you look at political action committees or other nightlife associations in other cities, they are run by the industry they are promoting, but then again, few of them have the permitting power of SF’s Entertainment Commission.
Over a year into the stalemate, one part of Young’s e-mail to city officials hits home the hardest: “[This shooting] could have and should have been prevented." As the bureaucratic battle continues, you have to wonder when one side is going to look at public safety becoming a more important priority than either of the issues over which the two sides are arguing. We’ll keep tabs on this one, especially because it doesn’t look like there is an end in sight.