The War on Fun — a term coined by the Guardian in 2006 to describe the crackdowns on nightclubs, special events, and urban culture by police, NIMBY neighbors, and moderate politicians — continues to grind on in San Francisco.
The latest attack was launched by Mayor Gavin Newsom and the San Francisco Police Department, which has proposed a series of measures to monitor and regulate individuals who visit bars or entertainment venues, proposals that the embattled Entertainment Commission will consider at its Dec. 14 meeting.
Perhaps most controversial among the dozens of new conditions that the SFPD would require of nightclubs is an Orwellian proposal to require all clubs with an occupancy of 100 persons or more to electronically scan every patron's identification card and retain that information for 15 days. Civil libertarians and many club owners call this a blatantly unconstitutional invasion of privacy.
Driving the latest calls for a crackdown is a stated concern over isolated incidents of violence outside a few nightclubs in recent years, something Newsom and police blame on the clubs and that they say warrants greater scrutiny by police and city regulators.
But the proposals also come in the wake of overzealous policing of nightclubs and parties — including improper personal property destruction and seizures, wrongful arrests and violence by police, harassment of disfavored club operators, and even dumping booze down the drain — mostly led by SFPD Officer Larry Bertrand and his former partner, Michelle Ott, an agent with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Those actions were documented in back-to-back cover stories by the Guardian ("The New War on Fun," March 24) and SF Weekly ("Turning the Tables," March 17), and they are the subject of multiple ongoing lawsuits by nightclub owners, patrons, and employees, including a racketeering lawsuit alleging that officials are criminally conspiring against lawful activities.
Yet rather than atoning for that enforcement overreach, Newsom and SFPD officials seem to be doubling down on their bets that San Franciscans will tolerate a more heavily policed nightlife scene in the hopes of eliminating the possibility of random violence.
A series of nighttime shootings this year has grabbed headlines and prompted calls to action by the Mayor's Office and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, whose District 3 includes North Beach. In February, there were shootings at Blue Macaw in the Mission and Club Suede at Fisherman's Wharf, followed by a shooting at the Pink Saturday fair in June, one outside Jelly's in SoMa in July, and the high-profile murder of a German tourist near Union Square in August.
Chiu responded with legislation to give the Entertainment Commission greater authority to close down problem nightclubs and, more recently, with legislation to require party promoters to register with the city so that officials can take actions against those who act irresponsibly.
In September, Newsom asked the SFPD for its recommendations and he received a laundry list of proposals now before the Entertainment Commission. That body held a closed session hearing Nov. 30 to discuss a confidential legal opinion by the City Attorney's Office on whether the identification scan would pass constitutional muster, an opinion that has so far been denied to the Guardian and the public, although officials say it may be discussed in open session during the Dec. 14 hearing.
"Everything is being considered," Jocelyn Kane, acting executive director of the Entertainment Commission, told the Guardian. Her office already has looked at the different types of scanners that clubs could use and has discussed the idea with several technology companies.