New Nightclub Association Vows to Self-Police Its Members

Is self-policing the answer to cleaing up San Francisco's nightlife mess? The selves vowing to police themselves say so.
There's a new player in San Francisco's nightlife wars: A trade association with a carrot and stick approach to dealing with nightclub regulation.

The California Music and Culture Association (CMAC) will be a statewide political advocacy group for nightclubs, music venues, musicians, promoters, and other industry affiliates, members of the board of directors said during a pre-launch-party interview last night.

But it will also be a self-policing body that will use peer pressure to help problematic venues clean up their acts.

"We're certainly not an anti-regulation entity," said Tim Benetti, a partner in Bottom of the Hill and a former Deputy City Attorney. "We appreciate that they have jobs to do. We want to lessen the need for them to perform an overly regulatory role."

Over the past six months, San Francisco nightlife advocates have been denouncing what they see as a major crackdown on their industry, which started two years ago when the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) came down hard on all-ages music clubs, sparking protracted and costly legal battles. In March, SF Weekly wrote a cover story about  a police-ABC nightlife team in SOMA, which, nightclub owners alleged, had crossed the line between enforcement and harassment.

The debate about nightlife regulation has been heated on all sides, with police, city officials, and some neighborhood residents painting a picture of a nightclub scene gone wild, and nightclub owners and staff denouncing police harassment and the smothering of the city's lucrative entertainment business. Several venues discussed joining a racketeering lawsuit, and one nightclub owner actually filed suit against the police and the city earlier this year. 

With its glossy, PR-laden launch last night, CMAC is positioning itself as a "wiser heads prevail" organization.  It's registered as a non-profit trade association funded through membership dues and donations, and aims for a statewide reach, starting with its San Francisco chapter, which already includes about 50 venues. It's slogan is "Responsibility. Accountability. Standard Bearers. Economic Drivers."

The "responsibility" piece includes hosting workshops to educate members about management, safety issues, developing good relationships with neighbors, and regulation compliance, said Deborah Jackman, a member of the group's board of directors, and the general manager of Mezzanie. There will be workshop later this month on how to comply with the city's new smoking law.

Peer pressure on its own members will come in the form of a CMAC certification, "like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval," she said, that will require venues to meet certain standards.

Benetti and Jackman said CMAC aimed to serve as a conciliatory bridge between enforcement agencies and nightclubs.

Benetti said this makes CMAC different from the San Francisco Late Night Coalition, founded by Terrance Alan, the city's most influential nightclub advocate and power broker.

Alan, who is at the center of the conflict-of-interest charges that are hobbling San Francisco's nightclub-regulating Entertainment Commission, is also the secretary of CMAC's board of directors. Benetti said that Alan was just one member of the board, and had no more responsibility than anyone else.

So far, Benetti and Jackman said, there has been a positive response to the group by City Attorney Dennis Hererra, and supervisors Ross Mirkarimi, David Campos, and Bevan Dufty -- although not from David Chiu, the supervisor who has been leading the push for reform of the city's nightclub regulation.

For the record, one of the launch party's sponsors was SF Weekly.

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