City panel looks at late night issues
by Matthew S. Bajko
San Francisco's late-night entertainment industry has been feeling under siege of late, with city leaders, state regulators, local police and residents pressuring club promoters and venue owners to clean up their acts and rein in unruly attendees at their parties.
At the same time, the faltering economy is hurting the clubs' bottom lines. And that could further erode the city's budget, which relies on the taxes the late night economy generates.
Just last week a Board of Supervisors committee pushed back voting on a set of new rules to govern nightclubs, which are supported by late night officials, amid a volley of competing concerns about First Amendment rights and safety issues.
The proposals included provisions for clearing sidewalks outside clubs during designated hours; bolstering the powers of the Entertainment Commission and its staff to deal more forcefully with problematic clubs; and allowing some venues to remain open after 2 a.m. The board panel is expected take up the measures next week.
In the meantime, several clubs have been shut down in recent weeks due to problems associated with their businesses and one Tenderloin strip club was slapped last week with a court injunction due to problems outside its business.
"Some of these business are under siege, so to speak. They are having a very hard time, both financially and other things," said Entertainment Commission President Audrey Joseph, an out lesbian and events producer. "Without a strong robust nighttime economy, it negatively affects our number one industry, which is tourism."
In a blog post Thursday, March 26, the owner of South of Market venue DNA Lounge, home to numerous LGBT parties, revealed that the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is moving forward with its decision to revoke its liquor license due to nudity and public nuisance violations undercover agents documented at the club last spring.
The club recently learned that an administrative law judge had advised the state agency that its "decision to revoke our liquor license is not illegal. So they are pursuing revocation, which is to say, they still intend to put us permanently out of business," wrote owner Jamie Zawinski on the club's Web site. "Next, we file another appeal, which (if I understand things correctly) will take us before another kangaroo court embedded within the ABC bureaucracy, the ABC Appeals Board."
ABC spokesman John Carr said the club would still be able to operate while the matter is on appeal. The club has 40 days to file with the agency's appellate board, which will then review the record of the administrative law hearing, accept written and oral arguments, and then have 120 days to make its decision.
After that, should the board uphold the ABC's license revocation, the club would have 30 days to file with the California District Court of Appeal to further pursue the matter.
"The decision is revocation and now the licensee can refuse that decision and take whatever course of action it deems is necessary or appropriate. It's up to the licensee at this point," said Carr.
There is no guarantee the decision to revoke DNA Lounge's license will be overturned, and the legal fight is sapping the club's financial resources. Zawinski has asked supporters to donate to a legal defense fund to help cover attorney and court fees.
Should the club's appeal fail, it would mean the space would have to go dark for at least a year before anyone could reopen a club at the venue.
Added all together, late night venues feel under attack, said club owner Terrance Alan, who is gay and also serves on the city's Entertainment Commission.
"I think the members of the community absolutely feel they are being unjustly singled out to solve the problems that the city is having, and will continue to have, even if the late night community and street fair community is put out of business," said Alan. "I feel people are justifiably feeling under siege. It is real easy to be a finger pointer, but it is time to put our thinking caps on and come up with solutions."
Amid the ongoing controversies surrounding the city's clubs, two city panels are hosting a forum this afternoon (Monday, March 30) aimed at helping beleaguered club owners cope. The entertainment and small business commissions will hold the meeting, entitled "The Nighttime Economy – Survive and Thrive," from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Main Library's Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin Street in the Civic Center.
The meeting is meant to provide a toolbox of options to assist nighttime businesses as they struggle to meet increased enforcement demands and respond to a faltering economy sapping their patrons' wallets.
"We want to provide them with tools and options for survival," said Joseph. "Also, I want to have not just the city officials understand but people generally understand that if tourism is our number one industry in San Francisco, then these late night venues are a vital component of that industry. Their survival is important to the city at large."
Late night denizens welcome the oversight panels' efforts.
"Any coalition and community building is going to help galvanize the community to fight this stuff. It is draconian," said Adrian Roberts, who faces the prospect of having to relocate his monthly Bootie party should the state close down DNA Lounge.
Alan said he hopes club owners show up at today's meeting to not only voice their concerns but also air suggestions they may have for dealing with the problems.
The city commissions are also asking the public to take a survey aimed at helping them determine where to focus their efforts. The online survey can be found at http://www.tinyurl.com/nightlifesurvey.
Lesbians picked for Dem primary panel
Two lesbian activists within the Democratic Party will help retool how it picks its presidential candidate in 2012. The effort is aimed at avoiding a similar situation that occurred during last year's presidential campaign, where the party refused to seat delegates from Florida and Michigan as punishment for those states' Democratic parties holding primaries earlier on the calendar than allowed.
San Francisco resident Rebecca Prozan , an Obama delegate to the party's national convention in Denver last year, and Montclair, New Jersey resident Joan Garry, the former executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, will both serve on what is being called the Democratic Change Commission.
The party, at President Obama's urging, adopted creating the 35-member commission during its August confab. It will address three issues: changing the window of time during which primaries and caucuses may be held; reducing the number of superdelegates who are given a vote in picking a presidential candidate; and improving the caucus system.
The commission must issue its report and recommendations to the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee no later than January 1, 2010.
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