San Francisco's Entertainment Commission oversees noise and security issues at local music venues. It is the city body responsible for holding club owners accountable for excessive volume or unsafe conditions.
So it's odd, to say the least, that the commission's sole inspector, Vajra Granelli, has close ties to a local security firm. And club owners allege that Granelli has given them extra scrutiny -- including official citations -- if they don't hire his company.
Granelli claims that while he co-founded Yojimbo Protection Services and sits on the company's board, he receives no compensation from the firm and isn't involved in its day-to-day operations. Nonetheless, Granelli's name comes up under phone records for the company's official address. And on the professional networking site LinkedIn, Granelli appears to keep two profiles -- one as the inspector for the Entertainment Commission, and another as the "owner" of Yojimbo. Asked about Granelli, some veteran club owners said it's long been known that he has close ties to a security firm.
Granelli's responsibilities for the city include visiting clubs and checking that they are meeting the requirements of their entertainment permits -- that volume levels are being respected and security plans are being followed. That's brought him into conflict with Jason Perkins, owner of Mission club Brick and Mortar Music Hall, which is currently under pressure from the commission over neighbors' noise complaints. As of a Tuesday ruling, the club must end its shows earlier than usual and can't produce more than 80 decibels until it improves soundproofing.
A raft of neighbors showed up at Tuesday's hearing, most of them saying they supported the club but didn't want to be forced to hear its shows inside their living room. But Perkins is convinced that his problems stemmed from his refusal to outsource Brick and Mortar's security to Granelli's firm. He says the problems began last fall, after he declined Granelli's repeated urgings to hire Yojimbo.
"I think if I hired his security company we would not have had one complaint," Perkins says.
Other club owners, speaking off the record, report similar occurrences. One says Granelli referred him to a partner at Yojimbo to hire security for a nightclub. The owner hired the firm, but soon found that it was too expensive. After he replaced the firm, the club began getting noise and security citations from Granelli, according to the owner.
"The reason why clubs hire this person is because they [the entertainment commission] leave us alone," he says.
Another club co-owner says he hasn't felt any pressure for not hiring Yojimbo, but did get a recommendation for the firm from Granelli.
"He says, 'Hey, if you're looking for one, I have a company,'" the owner says.
Granelli flatly denies all of this.
"We can't suggest security companies, we can't suggest sound companies," he says, insisting that he hasn't put additional scrutiny on clubs that didn't hire Yojimbo.
Nonetheless, Granelli's ties to Yojimbo appear to violate the Entertainment Commisson's official "Statement of Incompatible Activities."
"No officer or employee may engage in an outside activity (regardless of whether the activity is compensated) that is subject to the control, inspection, review, audit or enforcement of the Department," the document reads.
Yojimbo's website says it's available for work in "nightclubs/entertainment venues," listing the Regency Ballroom, Asia SF, and Bruno's as clients.
Asked about the issue, Entertainment Commission Executive Director Jocelyn Kane says she knew about Yojimbo, but didn't think its employees worked for local clubs. She viewed the issue as a distraction from the ongoing complaints about excess noise at Brick and Mortar.
"This is not about someone else's agenda," she says. "This is about neighbors who can hear [the club] every time there's a show."