Nightlife concerns top the agenda in D6 supe race
by Matthew S. Bajko
As fights over the city's Entertainment Commission have dominated City Hall debate of late and drawn increased scrutiny from the news media, nightlife concerns are at the top of the agenda in the District 6 supervisor race.
For years bar owners, club patrons, and the producers of various street fairs south of Market have felt under attack from angry residents, police officials, and state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control regulators. And their concerns have often fallen on deaf ears by city leaders.
In terms of nightlife issues, the current holder of the District 6 seat, Chris Daly, has often taken a back seat and let other supervisors lead the discussion. Former District 8 Supervisor Mark Leno, now a state senator, led the campaign to create the Entertainment Commission.
His successor, Bevan Dufty, stepped in last year when the producers of the Folsom Street Fair had problems obtaining their permits and intervened in a dispute between the DNA Lounge, which hosts numerous LGBT events, and the state ABC.
The person now leading the attacks on the Entertainment Commission is Board President David Chiu. Despite being a darling of progressives, Chiu represents North Beach where residents and merchants have been in an uproar for years over out-of-control nightclubs and unruly bar patrons. And some nightlife leaders suspect Chiu has been so out in front on the issue because he is planning to run for district attorney and wants to burnish his law-and-order credentials for a citywide campaign.
Yet District 6 is home to many of the city's largest nightclubs, both gay and straight, as well as smaller bars, restaurants, lounges, and theaters. And many employed in the entertainment industry say they are looking for the next District 6 supervisor to be a vocal champion for nightlife venues.
"I think, by and large, people feel lost in the shuffle. I know we do," said Paul Miller, a co-owner of the gay bar Truck on Folsom at 15th Street. "There is growing consensus we should be more organized."
Miller has been helping to bring South of Market bar and club owners under the umbrella of the California Music and Culture Association, which was founded to support the entertainment industry throughout the state. He said many people working in SOMA's entertainment industry have felt that Daly "is just not present" when it comes to their concerns.
"I am sure he has his priorities. One of them is not necessarily a business in his area and certainly not a nightlife business in his area," said Miller. "Our goal is to make sure they are very important. I think a good percentage of voters in the area, and the city at large, really rely on District 6 as a place to go out for nightlife. If you thought of the city without the nightlife, it wouldn't be much of a city left."
Daly, for his part, said he "doesn't care" about the criticisms of his leadership on the issue and countered that one look at his votes on the board shows "I have been a pretty good friend to nightlife."
Early in March Miller put together a forum with the District 6 candidates to focus attention on nightlife concerns. Six of the nearly two-dozen people who have pulled papers to run for the seat turned up, and Miller plans to host a second forum in late summer after the August filing deadline to officially enter the race.
The first forum brought out bar owners and employees who are eager to see a supervisor who will be a strong ally in City Hall.
"I'm hopeful we'll get more chances to listen to them as the race tightens," Scott Peterson, the manager of gay bar Powerhouse, wrote to the Bay Area Reporter in an e-mail this week. "It is imperative to the city and tourism that we keep a robust and eclectic nightlife that offer those only in San Francisco moments!"
Among the leading candidates so far in the race, many have some connection to the entertainment industry.
The openly gay James E. Meko is currently an entertainment commissioner and chairs the Western SOMA Citizens Planning Task Force, which has advocated seeing Folsom Street be designated an entertainment corridor. He has been vocal in opposing returning control over entertainment permits back to the police, something Chiu has advocated.
At the forum Meko warned that when the police were in charge of permitting clubs, the person in charge of the issue at Southern Station "ruled this district like a fiefdom." While he said he has never been a "cheerleader" on the Entertainment Commission, he considered himself a "good friend" to the industry.
Out lesbian Debra Walker is an artist and considers herself a supporter of the entertainment industry.
"We need to make this industry work better. My sense is we are failing at that," said Walker. "There is a
Walker is supportive of creating a community arts district that would better coordinate oversight of entertainment venues and ensure they remain open in San Francisco. She also advocates seeing buffer zones delineating club districts from residential areas as a way to ameliorate the problems.
"The tourist industry supports our general fund, and the clubs and the arts drive that. If we don't come up with solutions soon this industry will move to Oakland," said Walker. "You end up having conflicts with neighbors trying to close down the clubs and nobody wins."
Theresa Sparks, a transgender woman who heads the city's Human Rights Commission, once worked for sex company Good Vibrations and served as president of the Police Commission. She considers herself an advocate for small businesses, including bars and clubs.
Sparks said the Entertainment Commission "is taking all the heat because they can't do anything" when it comes to shutting down a problem club. She is supportive of seeing a different city agency handle the permit issues while keeping the Entertainment Commission as "advocates for the industry."
"As we all know the commission never had any real teeth," Sparks said. "They are criticized over something they never had control over. I think it is unfortunate."
The person with the greatest attachment to the nightlife scene is drag queen Anna Conda, whose real name is Glendon Hyde. He said he makes his living in clubs and ran the popular Charlie Horse weekly parties at Polk Street gay bar the Cinch before a permit flap caused the bar to cancel it.
Hyde, who is HIV-positive, credits bars and clubs with helping him to "find my voice and strength."
"To criminalize these types of entertainment is a disservice to the youth who go to these clubs to find their voice," he said. "If a new condo goes up next to a club or bar, the Planning Commission needs to be on top of it. I do believe our rights need to be viewed as more equal."
All four took part in the nightlife forum March 4, as did Jeff Gustavson, an HIV-positive gay man who has worked on AIDS issues, and Matthew Drake, a straight man who works in the high-tech industry.
Both expressed a need to support both clubs and street fairs as not only cultural assets but also economic engines of the city.
"I don't know what the best answer is but what we are doing now is not working," said Drake. "It would be a mistake to give police the entire power to issue permits to bars and clubs."
Truck's Miller said so far "it remains to be seen" who among the candidates will be the strongest voice for nightlife.
He has yet to meet with candidate Jane Kim, the current president of the city's school board and a civil rights attorney at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. Kim also has ties to the entertainment industry, as she helped found and co-direct Locus Arts, a performance venue space geared toward Asian Americans, and served four years on the board of the Asian American Theater Company.
Of those he has heard speak, Miller said he was most impressed by Walker and Sparks.
"I think Debra Walker has some interesting ideas that are good. Theresa Sparks seems to realize the problems and has experience working with the police to find a good balance," he said. "We will be organizing another candidate forum to go deeper into particular issues with the candidates."