Jelly's Dance Cafe, a nightclub that has faced eviction since a fatal July shooting, is suing San Francisco, claiming the city retaliated against its tenant after complaints about leaky bayside sewage pipes, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court last week.
If publicized, complaints of the Port of San Francisco's decayed sewage system might have threatened San Francisco's chances to host the 34th America's Cup, according to the lawsuit.
Jelly's, which is located on port property just south of AT&T Park, was closed last summer after a gunman killed Richmond resident Lee Farley outside of the club on July 11. After suspending Jelly's permit, the city began eviction proceedings in August.
But club owners claim city leaders were just punishing Jelly's for shedding light on the port's damaged sewage system, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Superior
Court in December. The case was refiled in federal court in San Francisco last week.
Matt Dorsey, spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said Jelly's leased its port building on a month-to-month contract that stated it could be terminated without cause with 30 days notice. The port in August issued a statement saying "allegations of retaliation or other speculative motives are baseless."
However, Whitney Leigh, who represents the nightclub owners, said that even a month-to-month lease can't be terminated for improper reasons. He characterizes his clients whistle-blowers.
"You can't terminate someone's lease merely because they're asking you to correct an environmental hazard," Leigh says.
Prior to the July shooting, sewage from the Port would sometimes flood into the dance cafe's kitchen. Jelly's owners said they repeatedly asked the Port to fix the ongoing problem, but they claim they were snubbed.
Jelly's Club owners believe they now know why. San Francisco recently won its bid to host the America's Cup in 2013, the famous sailing regatta that would take place along the waterfront. If the club had reported the Port for its sewage issues, it would have tarnished San Francisco's chances of securing the Cup. A long-term lease of Jelly's host pier was among enticements offered to America's Cup organizers. The America's Cup proposal also involved "relocating tenants from Pier 50, including Port maintenance facilities, and demolishing existing shed structures," according to a city-commissioned economic analysis report.
"Jelly's, and the surrounding area of Pier 50, was viewed by the City and the Office of the Mayor as a prime location for a yacht race the mayor sought to hold in San Francisco, known as the America's Cup," according to the suit.
"Jelly's efforts to compel the Port to repair its sewage system posed a threat to the City and the Mayor's efforts to bundle Jelly's premises together in the sale of wide waterfront property sell-off."
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