Entertainment Commissioner Says Raid of Latino Bar Not Tainted By Racism -- But Neighbors' Complaints Are

Categories: Business

The owner of SoMa's Club Caliente is gearing up to contest the first of a series of citations by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control following three busts in October and November for having underaged patrons in his bar. We wrote earlier this week about the club's allegations of racial profiling by the police and ABC.

While the citations could result in a fine or possible suspension of the bar's liquor license, it seems Club Caliente's entertainment license is safe -- for now. The city's Entertainment Commission decided to postpone its consideration of possible disciplinary action after police presented an "awfully, awfully incomplete" report about what, exactly the bar had done wrong, according to Commissioner Jim Meko.

Meko says the police on Tuesday mainly reiterated the ABC citations -- which affects the bar's liquor license and is outside of the commission's jurisdiction. He also felt the cops were "terribly, terribly vague" about how Club Caliente had violated the provisions of its entertainment license -- which was amended a few months ago due to neighbors' complaints. 

The commission will consider the case again when the permit officer with direct knowledge of the recent crackdown on the club returns from vacation.

Meko rejected the allegations by the bar's owner, Maurice Salinas, that the ABC and the police were harassing his club due to its Latino clientele. "The ABC has been working their way through all the South of Market clubs. It's just kind of a systematic check of all the venues."

But he says the complaints from neighbors to amend the terms of the bar's entertainment license earlier this year did have racist undertones against the bar's working-class Latino crowd.

"Neighbors have said in the past you can't walk by the place, they feel intimidated, and that intimidation kind of can go towards the nature of the crowd being Latino," Meko says. "... I'm not saying it's overt racism, but there's certainly talk among some of the neighbors in the area that it is founded in the fact the club caters to a Latino crowd."

The commission required the Salinas to clean up his bar's "sloppy" control of the crowd which would often block the sidewalk outside. The club was required to install a camera to monitor the crowd, put security in identifiable uniforms, and install a "white zone" drop-off on the curb instead of parking.  Meko says the commission has been satisfied with Salinas' compliance, other than the fact Salinas has tried to create a informal "white zone" with cones since he says he cannot afford to pay the $600 fee for a city white-zone permit.

"[Salinas] is trying to live up to the spirit of those conditions," Meko says. "We as a commission are tyring to help him through this...I think its valuable to have a club that caters to a Latino crowd. Where else are they supposed to go?"

Still, the club may face fines or possible suspension of its liquor license if it does not prevail in the administrative hearings contesting two of the three ABC citations -- the first of which is scheduled for December 16. Salinas admits the club "blew it" on one occasion, when they accepted a City College ID as a valid form of identification. But on the other two occasions, Salinas claims the patrons had used a California ID and Mexican Consulate ID indicating they were over 21.   

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