Can Newsom save SF parties?

Newsom, who made a living throwing parties, should defend his former community against police harassment.
Luke Thomas/Fog City Journal

Why won’t Mayor Gavin Newsom save San Francisco’s nightlife and culture? That question was raised toward the end of this week’s cover story on party-crashing cops, but it’s worth highlighting here because Newsom seem uniquely suited to the task of mediating this damaging dispute.

Newsom owned a restaurant and bar before being elected mayor with the strong support of the San Francisco Police Officers Association. The business community is one of his key constituencies, and he constantly talking about the need to promote tourism, which relies on our cultural vitality. He’s the most natural, logical bridge for this divide.

That’s why attorney Mark Webb, who represents several clubs and individuals who have been harassed by SFPD Officer Larry Bertrand, has explicitly been calling for Newsom to get involved.

“I really believe his involvement could help us get to a place of calm,” Webb said. “We have to stop this petty infighting and we have to embrace the cause, which is to make San Francisco’s nightlife an inviting environment.”

DNA Lounge, which is not part of Webb’s lawsuit but has been fighting against harassment by Bertrand and the ABC, also wants to see Newsom broker some peace talks. 

“Absolutely, Gavin certainly has the juice to deal with this problem and we would welcome his involvement,” DNA general manager Barry Synoground told us. “We don’t know why there is such vehemence against nightlife and entertainment…What kills me is we have a large group of responsible purveyors, but we’re not being treated as such. We’re being treated like criminals.”

But Newsom has resisted the call, with his press secretary Tony Winnicker telling us, “I wouldn’t rule it out, but the mayor has department heads for that reason,” saying he preferred for Police Chief George Gascon to tell with it. But the problem is this isn’t a police issue, it’s a political one.

DNA Lounge (which has reguarly blogged the crackdown) has highlighted how SFPD Commander James Dudley sees nightlife in the city: as a nuisance to be abated, rather than an important culture to be embraced and celebrated. Winnicker claims that Newsom understands this: “The mayor understands the importance of a vibrant nightlife.”

But that understanding hasn’t translated into official city policy. Attorney Mark Rennie, who handles permitting and compliance issues for about 40 nightlife and culture clients, said that San Francisco has become notorious for making life difficult for club owners and other purveyors of fun. 

“The city has always had this love-hate relationship with nightclubs. But it’s really bad now,” Rennie said, noting how welcoming other local cities are toward nightclubs, which are important economic drivers. “Berkeley gets it. Oakland gets it. I don’t know why San Francisco doesn’t get it.”

Which is strange because, of all people, Newsom should get it. He should understand the natural tension between certain elements of both the police and nightlife communities and, valuing them both, try to find a way to solve this problem. So whatdaya say, Gavin? After you’re done try to clean up the mess you created with the labor unions, how about stepping in to address a problem that is closer to your sweet spot?


Image by Luke Thomas/Fog City Journal