We Still Have Entertainment Commission to Kick Around -- For Now

Regulate this, Entertainment Commission...
The much-maligned Entertainment Commission isn't going to be scrapped immediately, despite growing  opposition to the group of appointees that regulates the city's nightclubs and other entertainment venues. That's what David Chiu, the president of the Board of Supervisors, told SF Weekly in a phone interview after today's Public Safety Committee hearing on violence at entertainment venues.

While the Entertainment Commission will be "on a very short leash," Chiu said, his current priority is giving the city new powers to revoke the licenses of problematic nightclubs and to regulate party promoters.

After a deadly shooting outside Club Suede at 383 Bay Street in February, many of the club's North Beach neighbors lobbied furiously for the club to be shut down. But it turns out that the Entertainment Commission has no legal authority to take away a venue's entertainment license because of violence or mismanagement. The commission can only issue a series of temporary suspensions. In the case of Suede, this means that, despite the public uproar and a history of problems at the club, the Entertainment Commission was only able to suspend Suede's permit for 30 days.

Chiu wants to change that. He's looking to draft measures that would give the city the authority to permanently revoke a venue's entertainment license, as well as to officially keep track of party promoters -- who are currently not regulated by the city in any way. 

"There is a very specific and direct correlation between promoters and acts of violence," Bob Davis, the executive director of the Entertainment Commission, said at today's Public Safety hearing. He told SF Weekly that the gunman arrested for the Suede shooting had come from a party at the Sheraton arranged by a promoter whose event at the Sons of Italy had also turned violent.

At the moment, the Entertainment Commission is not allowed to keep a list of promoters, problematic or not, Davis said, since this would constitute a "black list," which the city does not condone. Only if the city requires promoters to officially register can the Entertainment Commission officially take note of which promoters are linked to violence, Davis said.

During the hearing, Davis noted that, even if the Entertainment Commission is given the power to yank a nightclub's entertainment license, that doens't mean it will have the authority to actually shut down a venue completely. Conflicts could arise, since a statewide agency, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), controls liquor licenses.

This raised a potential bump in the road for those who want to ensure -- as Chiu does -- that the city can shut down violent or problematic nightclubs.

But Vajra Granelli, the Entertainment Commission's one-man, city-wide sound inspector, told SF Weekly  after the hearing that, according to his reading of ABC's regulations, a venue that has any of its permits revoked automatically jeopardizes its ABC liquor license.

Update: Justin Gebb, ABC's district administrator for San Francisco, said this morning that losing an entertainment permit wouldn't have any official impact on a venue's ABC liquor license. But, he said, ABC does work closely with the San Francisco Police Department, so if a venue had problems with fights, shooting, or disorderly conduct, the ABC would be notified."If there's actions that are wrong, then ABC can take administrative action," Gebb said.  

While he wants the Board of Supervisors to act quickly on the issues of permit revocation and promoter regulation, "The longer-term question of whether or not the Entertainment Commission is the body that uses these powers is still up in the air," Chiu told SF Weekly.

He said there wasn't a strict time line for how long the Entertainment Commission has to convince its critics -- among them, Mayor Gavin Newsom - -that it can be tough on bad apple nightclubs, despite what critics see as its industry-linked, financially compromised membership.

The goal of all the reforms, Chiu said at the hearing, was to make sure the city has regulation of entertainment venues "that does not tamp down on good clean fun." 

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