Ross Mirkarimi Pushes for More Live Performances in Small Restaurants

Categories: Local Flavor

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​It's summertime, and on a Saturday evening you take your date to your favorite little Italian restaurant. The breeze is cool, the food is exquisite, and your date is gorgeous. You're thinking the only thing left that would make this night perfect would be a little jazz music.

Alas, it's not likely to happen, because in San Francisco, if a cafe wants to have a live performer, the owners need to pay more than $2,000 to get a Place of Entertainment Permit.

Under current laws, entertainment is defined as "any act, play, review, pantomime, scene, song, dance act, song and dance act, or poetry recitation, conducted, or participated in by any professional entertainer." In short, the law treats spoken-word performance in a cafe the same as a DJ in a nightclub.

Not surprisingly, most small-business owners are unwilling to fork over the fee to get a permit for occasional performances.

Fortunately for your romantic date, the laws are likely to change in the near future. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi has proposed a Limited Live Performance Permit that would allow small businesses to get permits for a one-time $385 application fee and a $139 annual renewal fee, provided that the entertainment is accessory to the business' main use.

"It's a rare piece of legislation that could result in tangible benefits fairly soon," Mirkarimi told SF Weekly, "by helping a population of hundreds of mom-and-pop cafes and restaurants, and putting musicians and performance artists to work."

The Limited Live Performance Permits would limit small businesses to providing entertainment only up until 10 p.m. for the first year, before allowing an extension to midnight only if there have been no public safety or public nuisance concerns. It would also limit the performance space to 200 square feet. In comparison, the current Place of Entertainment Permit allows music to go on until 2 a.m., with no space limits.

Mirkarimi believes that this issue has been overlooked so far because nobody has questioned the bureaucracy. He also believes that small businesses have been "a casualty of the War on Fun in San Francisco."

"I think in some ways San Francisco is rightfully sensitive to neighborhood and resident concerns," Mirkarimi says, "but sometimes the vibrancy of mixed-use quarters are suppressed."

On Thursday, the bill was approved for consideration by the Planning Commission, the Small Business Commission, and the Entertainment Commission. Now the bill is undergoing amendments to include neighborhoods that have requested to join, such as West Portal and some areas in SOMA. It will be presented to the Board of Supervisors on July 25.

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