"But I don't want pressure from the city or SFPD."
"Pressure," of course, is a nebulous concept and hard to substantiate, but according to John Wood, political director of the SF Late Night Coalition, there are typical tactics. "If the police feel your venue is creating a nuisance, they show up every night, check your permits, walking into your venue, upsetting your customers," he said. "They do frequent inspections with the fire department and the building department, and get you for every little violation. Short of suspending permits and filing lawsuits, there's lots of ways city bureaucracy can make it difficult to do business."
But just how much of a "nuisance" do hip-hop shows create? Are they really that violent? No more than other genres, according to Robert Kowal, whose Sunset Promotions has brought everyone from Grandmaster Flash to Jurassic 5 to SF. "The city has safety as its primary concern," he acknowledged. "Occasionally some shows have problems the police have to deal with. Almost without exception that label gets thrown at hip-hop, when most events, including hip-hop, are very cool."
"Right now there's a gun problem in SF," Kowal continued. "Instead of addressing that, the city wants to blame entertainment and specifically hip-hop. But violence is rare inside the venue itself."
Wood concurred with this assessment. "There have been incidents where there were shootings," he said, "not in the clubs, but a block away, that may have possibly involved people who were at the club. Frequently police will blame the club for incidents in the neighborhood."
An SFPD spokesman, Sgt. Steven Mannina, wouldn't respond to this contention. It's worth noting that much of SoMa can get rough, even during the day. To the contrary, Kowal believes venues like Club Six have improved the tone of the neighborhood: "Angel Cruz deserves a lot of credit. That Club Six is open four nights a week has enabled other bars and restaurants to open around it. That area has been somewhat revitalized."
Wood suggests an influx of new neighbors may, in fact, be the main issue. "The city's changing," he explained. "It's older demographically, wealthier, more harried, and professional. Aside from hip-hop and violence, people are less tolerant about noise young people create." Yet that lack of tolerance among the condo crowd may also be rooted in fear. "Neighbors sometimes freak out when a club is bringing large groups of minorities into the neighborhood," Wood added, "whether they're behaving or not."
That assessment was echoed, mostly off the record, by many I interviewed. But veteran hip-hop commentator Davey D didn't pull punches. "They just don't want black people there," he said. "For a city that prides itself on being progressive, when it comes to nightlife, it has the most reactionary policies that seem based around race, using words like 'urban' as cover."
Regardless of hip-hop's alleged role in violence, this spring the city attempted to deal with the issue via two pieces of legislation: one required a hefty $400 permit per show, and the other was an anti-loitering law, empowering police to clear the area around a club. Both proposals were bad ideas: the former threatened to stifle local entertainment, and in an era of eroding civil liberties, the latter promised to give police discretion to arrest people just for being in the club's vicinity. Even more disturbing is Sgt. Mannina's assertion in April that "this is an enforcement strategy around clubs that field operations have already launched." How can this be, if it was not yet a law? "I thought it was already in place," he said.
Clearly the police act as though it is, given what I witnessed outside Club Six.