Sup. Haney Proposes Legislation to Protect Nightlife in Western SoMa

A higher bar for bars: Using the impending closure of Mezzanine, Haney holds a press conference to announce a bill that would force zoning changes away from entertainment to face higher scrutiny.

This post has been updated below to reflect a second press release from Microbiz.

Supervisor Matt Haney will hold a press conference at Mezzanine at 10:30 this morning to announce legislation proposing changes to nightlife in a wide swath of Western SoMa, including the entertainment corridors on Sixth and 11th Streets. In essence, it would require any move from an entertainment or nightlife venue to face higher scrutiny, irrespective of whether the zoning technically allows it.

The impetus for this legislation is Mezzanine’s impending closure. After 17 years, the Chritton family — which owns the building at 444 Jessie St., as well as Microbiz, the business that will expand into the space the club now occupies — decided not renew the venue’s lease. After subsequent good-faith negotiations with Mezzanine owner Deborah Jackman over a short-term extension from October until New Year’s Eve abruptly collapsed, the club was left with a calendar of events for the last three months of the year that may or may not be held. San Francisco may soon be without yet another independently owned, mid-sized venue, and approximately 35 people will lose their jobs. UPDATE, 5 p.m.: This afternoon, Mezzanine was supposed to have signed a three-month lease extension through the end of the year, but it has not yet happened.

However, Haney emphasizes to SF Weekly that this legislation is not about any one business. In particular, it is not analogous to Supervisor Aaron Peskin‘s recent intervention to save The Punch Line from getting booted out of its home of several decades.

The legislation will “put interim controls on nightlife and entertainment uses in Western SoMa, including the area where Mezzanine is,” Haney says. “So if you want to change use anywhere in that area, from an entertainment or nightlife use, you will need a conditional-use permit — even if it would otherwise be permitted.”

It will last for 18 months, the longest that San Francisco can enforce interim controls. In theory, the city will have come up with a permanent solution by the end of that period.

Haney notes that he attempted to work with the Chrittons once he was sworn into office, and that negotiations had initially seemed positive. Noting that the city can’t force a landlord to lease to a particular tenant on specific terms, Haney nonetheless adds that it’s “in the public’s interest to maintain and preserve these important spaces, like Mezzanine, and require a higher bar as a matter of land-use policy, if they want to be removed.”

In terms of land-use, SoMa is a bit of an oddity. Although historically industrial in character, many blocks and parcels are zoned in such a way that they spaces can be offices, residential, entertainment, or light industry, which only adds to the vertiginous pace of the neighborhood’s evolution. And Mezzanine, too, is unique.

Mezzanine is one of our only medium-size concert venues,” Haney says. “It’s woman-owned, and I think it has an incredibly important role in our community as providing a space for the LGBT community, and for local acts. There’s rightfully a lot of fear and outright anger that it would be shut down.”

Mezzanine’s plight notwithstanding, this bill comes at a timely moment. First of all, the area Haney’s legislation targets overlaps almost completely with the forthcoming SoMa LGBTQ Leather Cultural District, adding extra protections to any entertainment venues therein. Second, it’s Pride month, with Up Your Alley and the Folsom Street Fair not far behind — a time of year when SoMa’s LGBT spaces are historically at their liveliest. The threatened loss of another queer-friendly space may mobilize public support.

Deborah Jackman of Mezzanine notes that she tried to work with Microbiz, even proposing that entertainment juggernaut Another Planet Entertainment effectively buy the club out, keeping her and her staff on. That Microbiz wanted to raise the rent to $60,000 per month from $10,000 meant that an independently operated club could not continue as is. But she emphasizes that the three-month extension of the lease had seemed like a done deal — until April 30, when Microbiz made an about-face, insisting that all communication continue between their attorney and Patrick McNerney, the original owner of Mezzanine and the holder of the 20-year lease.

It got passive-aggressive, too. Jackman notes that Microbiz’s offices are directly below hers.

“I thought I had a very friendly relationship with them for 12 years that I’ve been with Mezzanine,” she says. “Not only did they have their lawyer tell Patrick but when Patrick told me, I went and knocked on their door and they wouldn’t let me in. I said, ‘I just want to speak to Dave and Todd,’ and they said ‘No, you need an appointment.’ “

She subsequently emailed them, noting that she’d continued to book events for the balance of 2019, assuming that Microbiz would honor the deal. 

“I have events now booked through December, and this could bankrupt me — and it’s going to hurt the promoters and the artists and everybody that’s involved with these shows that are coming up. They didn’t respond.”

For its part, the 54-year-old security company Microbiz issued a press release that does not mention Mezzanine by name, but affirms that “a lease has been signed.” That passive-voice phrasing glosses over the fact that it’s effectively a company signing a lease with itself, but does put to rest any rumor that Microbiz will give Mezzanine the boot only to lease the space out to, say, a tech company at a much-higher rate. 

Microbiz “will be taking over the entire building as of October 11, 2019 — ensuring their legacy in the Northern California marketplace,” the release reads. “Microbiz is owned by the Chritton brothers, Dave and Todd. It has been a family-run business for 54 years. They will continue with their quality of service, hiring locally, and expanding. Their parents started the Microbiz incarnation of the business in 1965. It was their parents wish that someday Microbiz would occupy the entire building.”

UPDATE: SF Weekly received a second, strangely worded press release from Microbiz that seems treat Mezzanine as a curious interloper, in spite of occupying adjacent floors at the same address for more than a decade. It reiterates that Microbiz never had a lease with Jackman or her company, NightGallerie LLC, and claims that Mezzanine is but one of the subtenants of the original tenant, Patrick McNerney. Further, it claims that the “20-year-old lease that was signed originally by [Dave and Todd’s Chritton’s parents was] an office lease; and they never thought that the office space would be used as a nightclub.”

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