Editorial: Stop the War on Fun


A local nightlife producer has won a tentative settlement in a false arrest and police abuse lawsuit against San Francisco. The deal still needs the approval of the supervisors, but it involves a significant chunk of cash. And it comes on the eve of what would have been a very public and — for the city — embarrassing trial shows how costly and pointless the police department's crackdown on nightlife has been.

In the case, Arash Ganadan claimed that Officer Larry Bertrand handcuffed him and hauled him off to jail outside a South of Market loft where the 27-year-old party producer was meeting with friends. Bertrand, the allegations stated, was mad that Ganadan had filed a complaint against him after an earlier club bust. Bertrand has since been reassigned.

But the problems with the War on Fun, as we've dubbed it, go way beyond one rogue cop. Over the past few years, San Francisco has wasted a tremendous amount of money sending undercover officers into parties, arresting people who don't have the proper permits, confiscating laptops and sound equipment, pouring out liquor, and generally making life miserable for people who are doing no harm to anyone.

The San Francisco Police Department has been resisting foot patrols and neighborhood policing on the grounds that the budget doesn't allow that kind of expense. There are murders that have gone unsolved for years. The crime lab is a mess. And the department is still spending money arresting people for holding parties.

Sup. Scott Wiener, whose first act was to launch a misguided and counterproductive attack on historic preservation, is on the right track on the police crackdown. He's asked for a study on the economic impact of nightlife in San Francisco, with the goal of demonstrating that the city's edgy culture is something to be supported, not repressed. That's a good step.

The supervisors ought to go further. During the budget hearings, they ought to ask the budget analyst to figure out how much the SFPD, the District Attorney's Office, the Public Defender's Office, and the sheriff have spent prosecuting the War on Fun.

The crackdown didn't start with Officer Bertrand, and it won't end with him shifting to another beat — unless the new mayor and interim Police Chief Jeff Godown make it clear that this nonsense has to stop. Mayor Ed Lee should make a public announcement that he's directed Godown to stop spending money harassing nightlife promoters and parties.

Yes, violence has broken out at a few clubs. But the cops aren’t targeting gun-toting outlaws; they’re going after peaceful party promoters whose events rarely cause problems.

While city officials go out of their way to woo companies like Twitter with the promise of expensive tax breaks, they ignore the economic engine that is local nightlife. Lee should have his Office of Economic Development promote nightlife and urban culture as part of its mission.

Lee still hasn't given San Franciscans much of a sense of where his priorities will be, but this one seems pretty simple — and cuts across traditional political lines. If big biotech firms and rich social networking entrepreneurs get the red carpet treatment at City Hall, homegrown parties and events shouldn't be getting kicked to the curb.