Fury over sound

City threatens to suspend popular SoMa nightclub after its neighbors complain about loud music
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steve@sfbg.com

Club Six is a popular nightclub that has invigorated the seedy Sixth Street corridor, attracted new businesses nearby, and generally made it safer to walk that area at night. Yet along the way, the expanding club has become a magnet for noise complaints from adjacent residents of single-room-occupancy hotels who are pushing the city to yank the club's permits and perhaps put it out of business.

The San Francisco Entertainment Commission will hear the case June 5 and decide how to balance a campaign started by a few irritated neighbors and then organized by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic (THC) against concerns that the city is fast becoming less tolerant of nightlife and a vibrant urban culture (see "Death of Fun, the Sequel," 4/25/07).

"The concept of mixed use is going to be put to the ultimate test," Robert Davis, executive director of the commission, told the Guardian. "With the influx of housing in every neighborhood, it takes a careful hand to balance those uses, and that's what the commission is trying to do."

Club Six is located in an old brick building underneath the Lawrence Hotel, where some residents complain that music rumbles their rooms and keeps them up at night. They blame club owner Angel Cruz. "His music kept getting louder and louder until it was vibrating the rooms up here," said Jim Ayers, the Lawrence Hotel resident who has filed the most noise complaints. "He ignores the law and doesn't care about this area whatsoever."

Yet Cruz said he's put more than $1 million into the club since he bought it in 2001, back when the neighborhood was mostly vacant storefronts and junkies ruled the streets. Those improvements include more than $229,000 in sound-accentuation work, mostly focused on the Lawrence Hotel.

"I thought it was a great space that could be developed into something special, which it has become. And this was a turnaround neighborhood," Cruz told us, noting that the space has been a bar since the 1930s and that several new clubs followed him into the neighborhood. "I think we've been a good neighbor. Do we make noise? Every club in town makes noise. And if you're going to shut us down, you should shut down every club in town."

Cruz said the problems began two years ago when Ayers complained about noise from the club and sued him in small claims court, asking for $7,500. Before the case went to trial, Ayers offered to settle the case and stop complaining (Ayers told us he wanted $3,500; Cruz said it was $5,000), but Cruz refused, and the judge eventually awarded Ayers $500.

"He was trying to extort money from me so he wouldn't keep complaining," Cruz said of Ayers. "He was upset that he only got $500 and told me he would make my life a living hell, which he has."

Ayers maintains that it's about noise and not money, but he admits that the unsatisfying end to the case prompted him to keep complaining and seek regulatory relief. "He said to me that I can't do a damn thing to him," Ayers told us. "Well, I say, 'Mr. Cruz, look what I've done now.'"

Since January of last year, Ayers and a few other persistent complainers have triggered regular police visits to the club, organizational and political help from the THC (publisher of www.beyondchron.org, which has written critically of Club Six), and intervention by an Entertainment Commission sound engineer and the City Attorney's Office.

"We're concerned that the owner of Club Six is not being a good neighbor," the THC's Paul Hogarth told us. "We have encouraged tenants to call the police when things are too loud." As a result, Club Six had to do more soundproofing and keep the music set at 88 decibels in the club, a level it has violated a few times, each by less than 10 decibels.