Truce talks

Police, party promoters, and politicians seek a detente in the War on Fun

Officer Larry Bertrand's aggressive tactics in cracking down on nightclubs and parties fueled a strong community backlash

All parties are hopeful for peace in the Guardian-labeled War on Fun after oppressive raids on SoMa clubs have stopped and the feuding sides — mainly the San Francisco Police Department and nightclub owners — are sitting down to truce talks brokered in part by the fledgling California Music and Culture Association (CMAC).

"I'm here to work with you," Kitt Crenshaw, commander of SFPD's new Entertainment Task Force, told the crowd at a Nightlife Safety Summit on June 30. "I'm not the enemy. I'm not the 'War on Fun,' as they call it. I'm not the Antichrist." The summit was sponsored by the Mayor's Office, Entertainment Commission, SFPD, Small Business Commission, and CMAC.

Club owners and the SFPD are attempting to find balance between stifling the entertainment industry with heavy-handed enforcement and doing something about the deadly gun violence plaguing neighborhoods around some San Francisco nightclubs. Owners and party promoters don't want entertainment permitting power to go back to the SFPD, as Mayor Gavin Newsom has suggested. But recent shootings and the Entertainment Commission's inability to immediately close problem clubs have city officials demanding change.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced legislation in early June that would give the Entertainment Commission the authority to revoke the entertainment permits of noncompliant clubs that are consistently scenes of violence. Chiu's legislation would further extend temporary suspension powers the board granted to the commission in 2009.

"There is strong consensus that the Entertainment Commission needs to do its job. And if this is what it takes to give it more tools, then so be it," Chiu told the Guardian after the June 25 CMAC Insider Luncheon, where he participated in a forum with entertainment industry representatives. Chiu said he was feeling pressure from his constituents in North Beach to "come down like a hammer on the industry" following several shootings around the neighborhood's nightclubs this year.

Terrance Alan, a longtime industry advocate and entertainment commissioner, told the Guardian he recently requested that the City Attorney's Office help define when nightclub owners should be blamed for violence occurring near their business. "If we're going to hold venues and security teams responsible, we have to tell them and make sure it's legal," he said. "The line of reasoning that blames the nearest business will force San Francisco to shut down. The first thing we have to do is stop blaming each other."

Chiu, speaking to a crowd at the Nightlife Safety Summit, recounted a handful of incidents that pushed him to craft the new legislation. Since the last legislation was passed to strengthen the Entertainment Commission's power to regulate nightclubs, eight people were shot outside the Regency night club Nov. 15, 2009; 44 rounds were fired outside club Suede, resulting in one death and four injuries Feb. 7; a shooting occurred on Broadway outside a strip club in mid-February; and a police officer was shot outside the Mission District's El Rincon club on June 19. "And so on, and so on," Chiu said.

Following the shooting at Club Suede, which had long been a site of violence prior to the gang-related carnage in February, officials were stunned to learn the commission did not have the power to revoke entertainment permits. The most it could do was suspend Suede's permit to play music for 30 days.

"To hold the commission responsible for something it was never envisioned to do and never given the power to do is where the narrative has gone wrong recently," Alan said of widespread criticism that the commission just didn't simply "shut down" Club Suede.

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