Truce talks - Page 2

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

Suede remains voluntarily closed as it bargains with the City Attorney's Office, which filed a complaint against the club after the shootings. Alex Tse, the lead attorney for the city in the case, told the Guardian there was nothing he could legally do to prevent Suede from reopening before Aug. 10, when the court is scheduled to rule on a preliminary injunction (court mandated closing) the City Attorney's Office filed. But he doesn't expect them to reopen because Suede and the city are currently working toward settling the case.

If the incidents Chiu described represent a black eye for San Francisco's entertainment industry, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and SFPD aren't necessarily squeaky clean either. "I sat down with [ABC director] Steve Hardy and told him that where the state was focusing efforts in San Francisco was completely misguided," Chiu said at the CMAC luncheon. "And I've spoken to [California Senator] Mark Leno to try to move them in the right direction."

The break in the crackdowns of 2009, mostly attributed to severe tactics employed by SFPD Officer Larry Bertrand and ABC agent Michelle Ott, followed a widespread backlash to the sometimes brutal treatment legitimate business owners were receiving in the name of public safety. Back-to-back over stories in the Guardian (see "The new War on Fun," March 23, 2010) and the SF Weekly, calls to the ABC from city officials, the formation of CMAC, and a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) suit filed against San Francisco and the rogue officers spurred officials to rein in Ott and Bertrand.

Hardy told the Guardian that Ott is no longer assigned to alcohol enforcement in San Francisco. Bertrand has traded in his plain-clothes for a uniform and hasn't been seen busting into clubs, beating up the help, or confiscating DJ equipment for several months.

Mark Webb, plaintiff's attorney in the RICO case, which was moved to the federal court by the City Attorney's Office, said Bertrand is scheduled to give a deposition for the case July 26. Webb told the Guardian he plans to ask Bertrand questions relating to "a pattern of ongoing and repeated abuses" claimed in the complaint, which includes Newsom and ABC as defendants.

"We're at a crossroads," Chiu told the crowd at the Nightlife Safety Summit, adding that if the new power for the Entertainment Commission does not reduce club violence, stronger measures would be taken, whether it's Newsom's suggestion to scrap the commission entirely and give permitting power back to the police department or Chiu's idea to create another "less politicized" body to issue entertainment permits made up of representatives from city department that are affected when nightlife entertainment goes wrong.

"There has been significant dissatisfaction with the Entertainment Commission due to many actual and apparent conflicts of interests," Chiu said. "Frankly, this is why we may need to move to a different model of who actually makes decisions on permits, because often the people who want to make those decisions are the ones who stand to get the most benefit out of them."

But club owners and party promoters argue that the police issuing entertainment permits, as they did prior to the Entertainment Commission's creation in 2002, has a chilling effect on an important part of San Francisco's economy.

Alan said a civil grand jury found the police department had a conflict of interest in being both the granter and enforcer of nightclub permits, a finding that spurred the creation of the Entertainment Commission.

"I've been in the industry long enough to remember when it was in the Police Department's hands," said Guy Carson, owner of Café Du Nord and director of CMAC. "Since the advent of the Entertainment Commission, more permits have been issued, which has vitalized the industry."

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