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San Francisco Chronicle Editorial: That's the price of entertainment

That's the price of entertainment

Re-posted from the San Francisco Chronicle, Monday, March 19, 2012

Original San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Post: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/03/18/EDLN1MNU9V.DTL#ixzz1pgUNCaqN

At last we can quantify the economic value of all the nighttime carousing in San Francisco's bars and clubs. A report by the city controller's office says the after-dark entertainment scene generates $4.2 billion a year in spending, $1 billion of it from nightclubs, taverns, performances and art spaces. The tax haul: $55 million.

That's a hefty chunk of revenue, but it can come at a price: noise, crime and annoyed neighbors. City politicians, police and neighbors share the responsibility of keeping the revelry under control while encouraging it to prosper.

An example of the downside is Polk Street, where residents and some merchants are complaining of noisy crowds walking the streets late at night - one two-block stretch is home to nine bars. Similar complaints are heard in other neighborhoods.

The most extreme case of out-of-control nightlife in recent years was a rash of shootings at a few clubs in 2010. The result was legislation to beef up the power of the Entertainment Commission to shut down problem businesses, and most observers say that has tamped down the problem.

Ron Case, chairman of the Lower Polk Neighbors group, would like to see a moratorium on new liquor licenses in his area. He also suggests that merchants could fund an improvement district for the neighborhood, like the one that hires "ambassadors" to patrol Union Square and give the cops a heads-up about problems. (He also would like to see all businesses shut down by 2 a.m. - good luck with that.)

This is San Francisco, not the suburbs. Part of the experience of living in a big city is the wide range of entertainment available to residents. That also attracts young people seeking fun and employment and out-of-towners with cash to spend.

But nightlife does need some regulation to protect residents and merchants alike from bad behavior.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro, ordered up the controller's study and says its findings give officials real facts on which to base decisions: "In the past, those decisions frequently have been driven by anecdote or overreaction to isolated events."

A good first step: Wiener is looking at ways to give the Entertainment Commission more authority to shut down problem establishments.

Local efforts by activists like Ron Case play an important role in tracking this ever-evolving problem. But the controller's study shows how important this industry is and should prompt City Hall to keep it thriving and safe - for a number of reasons.

As Wiener says, "The $55 million this generates in taxes will pay for a lot of cops."

Nightlife: vibrant but safe

Here's what San Francisco needs to do:

Patrols: Establish more Business Improvement Districts to patrol neighborhoods with heavy nocturnal action. About a dozen of these already exist around the city, hiring "ambassadors" - you've seen them in Union Square, dressed in red coats and caps - to keep an eye on the action and alert police to any signs of trouble.

Dialogue: Neighborhood associations can help by pulling all parties together to talk about their concerns. They might even come up with some solutions.

Cops: Beef up the force on the street. Chief Greg Suhr says that with about 100 more officers (the department is down 250 from normal staffing), he could post a few cops near bars around closing time to urge patrons to head home instead of hanging around and keeping residents awake. Suhr has proposed a five-year plan.

Oversight: Given a little more legal muscle, the Entertainment Commission should be more aggressive in responding to the concerns of those who live in the city's entertainment districts.

This article appeared on page A - 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle


See the original article from the San Francisco Chronicle: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/03/18/EDLN1MNU9V.DTL#ixzz1pgUGbANl

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