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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

SFEC Wants More Power to Regulate Nightclubs

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2009 at 7:00 AM

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As reported yesterday in the Chronicle, the SF Entertainment Commission is seeking greater authority to regulate nightclubs. New legislation, written by the commission and introduced by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, proposes doubling the area outside a venue the club is legally responsible for, from 50 to 100 feet. It would also give the SFEC the power to close a club temporarily for a three-day period, and impose fines for violating noise limits.

Yet while residents of problem areas like North Beach and the Mission--where 2 a.m. closing time often leads to fights, public urination, projectile vomiting, or littering-- might welcome any attempt to reign in so-called "problem" nightspots, it's unclear that the new legislation would amount to much more than lip service. For one thing, the SFEC website already lists a "Good Neighbor Policy" which outlines guidelines "to insure that management and/or patrons of the establishments maintain the quiet, safety, and cleanliness of the premises and the vicinity of the use."

The SFEC and the SFPD also already have the power to issue a 30-day suspension or revoke the permit for any club in violation of existing policy, or one deemed a public nuisance (though such suspensions are rare). Expanding the SFEC's powers could also raise concerns of selective enforcement; some local business owners have already accused the agency of playing politics, and it's unclear how imposing fines and temporary suspensions on clubs in high-traffic areas such as North Beach, SoMa or the Mission would realistically prevent problems from occurring, since unruly patrons could just go to another nearby spot. Moreover, there's the possibility that venues could be held responsible for problems they didn't create, such as homeless people defecating or sleeping in doorways; gangbangers doing drive-bys; strongarm robberies and muggings; or heroin and crack users leaving used paraphernalia on doorsteps and sidewalks.

The reality of nightlife in the city is that there will always be an uneasy truce between neighborhood residents and venues. Bowing to NIMBYism should be balanced between respecting clubs which actually improve the quality of life in their region, such as Club Six, which almost single-handedly transformed a drug-riddled, low-income area into a popular evening destination for both city residents and out-of-towners.

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Eric Arnold

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