Saturday, May 3, 2008

Ken Garcia Attacks Entertainment Commission and Gets it All Wrong

In Friday's edition of The Examiner Ken Garcia penned a hit piece on the San Francisco Entertainment Commission, taking, not surprisingly, the view that the EC should be disbanded and control over clubs and permits returned to the police. His angle for making this argument is that a new club is trying to start up in the North Beach space formerly occupied by The Zebra Club, a club that had significant problems in the past, and the EC is "going against" the neighborhood by supporting the new club. He goes on to question the EC's effectiveness, saying that they have never taken any action against a problematic club, and they have never turned down a permit application.

Of course, what Garcia doesn't get into is the fact that he is arguing for the obstruction of business development, and a type of business that is essential to The City's tourism industry. He makes no suggestion about what kind of business should take over a club space, aside from a club, and seems to have the idea that letting the police take control of a significant business sector, one with which they have a overt conflict of interest, would be a good idea.

Fortunately, it's easy enough to rebut Garcia by simply reading the minutes of the EC meetings. If you take the time to look at what the EC actually does, you can see that they are in the very difficult situation of trying to regulate an entire industry with very little in the way of legislative or administrative support. And if you look at the way they deal with problem clubs, their solution is to try and get them in line with the way things should be done, rather than immediately closing them down. For example, the minutes from the January 15 meeting show quite clearly how the EC attempted to deal with a problem club, Loft 11. They took on the responsibility of checking out the situation for themselves, working with the police to observe actual violations, confronted the Manager and owners on the scene, called them into the EC to defend themselves, and then read them the riot act to make them clean up their act. Rather than taking the simple-minded authoritarian approach that violations mean the permits should be pulled and the business shut down, the EC actually tried to make it a better business. Somehow, I don't think the police would take the same approach.

Nightlife is an essential part of San Francisco's tourist industry, and provides a substantial revenue stream for The City and everyone involved in the industry. The EC has taken the position that nightlife does represent a real industry, and that there is a need to regulate that industry and enforce standards and practices. As we've seen in the past, the police simply regard nightlife as a public nuisance, and thus treat any issue as reasonable grounds for shutting down a club. Before anybody gets the idea that it would be a good idea to let the police once again control permits, maybe it would be worthwhile to consider the actual economic and cultural benefits of an approach that focuses on making businesses better rather than closing them down.

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