Anniversary Issue: Culture isn't convenient - Page 2

Sustaining entertainment and nightlife in San Francisco requires awareness and a policy shift

Free events (which, if permit fees increase and alcohol sales are prohibited, will be a thing of the past) give equal access to fun and frivolity to people in all income brackets — and most raise money for charities and nonprofits. Particular venues and happenings provide an important way for those in the counterculture — whether that's LGBT youth or progressive artists — to meet, mingle, and support each other. And none of that captures the intangible quality of living in a city where freedom, tolerance, and the pursuit of a good time are supported. And all this is one of the reasons many of us moved here, where we pay taxes (and parking tickets), open businesses, start organizations, and contribute to our already diverse and vibrant population.

But if we don't establish a way to protect our culture, personally and legally, we may lose it. Instead, we need an overarching policy that establishes our values as well as the legal ways we can go about supporting them. The Music and Culture Charter Amendment, in the works for more than three years and currently sitting before the Board of Supervisors, aims to do exactly this.

The most important part of the amendment, created by a coalition of artists, musicians, event planners, club owners, and concerned citizens who call themselves Save SF Culture, would be to revise San Francisco's General Plan to include an entertainment and nightlife element, just as the current plan contains an entire section devoted to the protection of (presumably mainstream) dance, theater, music, and art, calling them "central to the essence and character of the city." Not only would this amendment mandate that future lawmakers try to preserve events and venues, it would give a roadmap on how to do this effectively — most notably by creating a streamlined, transparent, online permitting process for special events.

Yet even if this important amendment passes and wins the mayor's signature (which is hardly a sure thing), that's just the beginning of a process of figuring out how to sustain San Francisco's culture in the face of potentially threatening socioeconomic changes. At the very least, the next step will be giving the Entertainment Commission the full funding and staff (it currently operates with five of the eight staffers required). And once our beloved clubs and events are out of immediate danger, it will be time to form a coalition of citizens, government officials, and city planners to decide how and where culture in our city should grow, asking questions like whether or not we want a large-scale amphitheater or if we need to designate an area as an entertainment district. Most important, the city needs to develop a framework for resolving the inevitable conflicts with NIMBYs in a way that promotes a vibrant culture.

Yet there's also a role in this process for each citizen of San Francisco. We need to remind ourselves and our neighbors that tolerance is one of our core civic values, tolerance for different races, classes, genders, sexual identities, and for the potentially noisy, messy, chaotic ways our culture supports those differences. If we erect a gate — physical or metaphorical — every time we're uncomfortable or inconvenienced, we'll turn San Francisco into the sanitized, homogenous, boring suburbs that I moved to Church and Market to escape. *

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