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For Entertainment Purposes Only 

The Entertainment Commission is supposed to regulate S.F. nightclubs, but it won't — and often can't — punish scofflaws. The results are sometimes tragic.

Wednesday, Jul 8 2009
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Nevertheless, the new bill has become mired in controversy. Police and neighborhood activists, acting on their long-simmering frustration with the Entertainment Commission, have successfully lobbied David Chiu, the freshman president of the Board of Supervisors, for some dramatic changes to the bill.

In May, Chiu proposed amendments, including a cap on the number of extended-hours permits that can be issued in a given year. (About 100 businesses in San Francisco currently hold such permits, many of them late-night restaurants.) He also introduced oversight measures designed to increase the Entertainment Commission's public accountability, such as regular reporting on follow-up to police and resident complaints. Additionally, the city's police chief would be authorized to initiate a suspension hearing before the commission if the agency's employees don't respond to requests for such a hearing.

These measures have provoked staunch resistance from the commission and industry interests, and the bill is now stalled in the Board of Supervisors' City and Neighborhood Services Committee. Kevin Ryan, the former judge and U.S. attorney who now heads the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, backs the Entertainment Commission's preferred version of the legislation.

Chiu's critics say his amendments have thrown a wrench into legislation that was fine-tuned over a year and a half to balance the needs of nightclubs and law enforcement.

"He's a brand-new supervisor to a large district," Joseph says. "I think he's got a little too much on his plate, and he's not thinking clearly."

Chiu says such arguments exaggerate how comfortable city officials — particularly within the police department — were with the legislation. "There have been longstanding complaints from both the police department and neighbors around the city that complaints they file with the Entertainment Commission have not been followed up on," he says. "The Entertainment Commission does have these dual, contradictory missions of both promoting the industry and regulating the industry. And I think that many of the challenges in this area have probably been a function of those contradictions."

City officials outside the commission continue to count Pink Diamonds among the worst of those challenges. After the club's most recent outbreak of violence on June 27, City Attorney Dennis Herrera vowed to close its doors for good. "The neighborhood is clamoring for some solution, and they deserve it," he said. "And I'm going to do everything in my power to shut this place down. Enough is enough."

The incident in question took place at about 3 a.m. on a Saturday — an hour at which Pink Diamonds is not legally allowed to operate, since it lacks an extended-hours permit. Harris Fulbright, a 30-year-old from San Francisco, was shot to death outside the strip club after fighting with another customer waiting in line. Later that day, the crime scene had been cleared, and a reporter who knocked on the door was greeted by a janitor. He said the owners and management team were absent, but confirmed that Pink Diamonds would be open for business again that night.

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Peter Jamison

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