These are dark days for nightlife in the city, particularly North Beach. On July 10, two men were shot inside Impala, a club on Broadway. Two weeks later, City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed papers in San Francisco Superior Court seeking an injunction that would shutter Heaven, a North Beach strip club he said was "implicated" in an April shooting. "Right now, it's so dangerous on the weekends on Broadway that I don't think anyone would recommend, 'Come on down,'" says North Beach Merchants Association president Kathleen Dooley, who also sits on the city's Small Business Commission.
So it is that in these desperate times, Broadway businesses are turning to measures that, if not desperate, are a little unusual. The Broadway Entertainment and Cultural Association, a newly formed nonprofit with financial backing from North Beach strip clubs, has hired a phalanx of private security guards from Oakland-based Premiere Protective Service to patrol the streets on weekend nights. But these aren't your average mall cops. According to Premiere co-owner John Jay, his agency has picked a crew of four men and one woman — he said the men range in height from six-foot-six to seven feet — who are all African-American. The idea is to deploy faces that might look a little more familiar to Broadway's late-night patrons, many of whom come from the East Bay.
"We wanted people [to whom] the kids wouldn't just say, 'Fuck you, you white policeman,'" says Dooley, whose association is part of the nonprofit backing the effort. To better achieve this triumph of diplomacy, the guards are being referred to as "ambassadors."
But not all are welcoming the arrival of the ambassadors. San Francisco Police Captain James Dudley says there are already plenty of cops on the street in North Beach, and that he's not sure what private guards will do to improve the neighborhood's security. "We're still trying to figure out exactly how it will work," he says.
Sam Young, owner of Broadway's DragonBar, thinks the ambassadors have been hired in a public-relations stunt to distract from North Beach's real problem: the clubs themselves. Power to suspend or revoke clubs' permits rests not with the police but with the Entertainment Commission, a board of political appointees that has historically been loath to impose discipline on problem spots.
"It seems to me that if you eliminate clubs that have shootings and stabbings, you'd eliminate the problem," Young says. "It seems pretty common-sense to me. I don't know why City Hall can't figure it out."