Ban approved for new bars along portion of Polk Street 

click to enlarge Neighbors and bar owners are at odds along Polk Street, which has 45 alcohol permits in one six-block stretch. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Neighbors and bar owners are at odds along Polk Street, which has 45 alcohol permits in one six-block stretch.

New bars along Lower Polk Street were banned Tuesday as The City attempts to mitigate the rowdy nightlife scene that has increased there in recent years.

While the legislation was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors with little debate, the proposal had inspired a spirited back-and-forth among community members and bar owners about the proper character of Polk Street and how best to address the impacts of the popular nightlife scene.

One resident was inspired by the rowdy bar behavior to ask if Nob Hill was becoming the “new Las Vegas,” while a Small Business Commission member praised merchants for bringing economic vitality to a once-depressed corridor.

The contrast in opinions illustrates the challenge in addressing the conflict along the corridor, which runs from Civic Center Plaza north to Aquatic Park.  

Board President David Chiu, who represents the area, said his legislation “really tries to strike the right balance in making sure that we continue nightlife on Polk Street that is healthy but is also safe and respectful of our neighborhoods.”

Additional bars are now prohibited along Polk Street between O’Farrell and California streets, where an estimated 45 alcohol permits already exist for the six blocks. Chiu said he also has been considering a similar restriction for the remainder of the commercial portion of Polk Street.

Existing alcohol licenses within the new ban area can be transferred, but a special permit would be required if there’s a location change. And if the license has been inactive for more than a year, it would be invalidated.

Leading up to Tuesday’s vote, Chiu made a number of changes to the legislation in response to criticism.

He eliminated a proposed restriction requiring a special permit for live music and other entertainment. He also dropped a restriction that would have forced new restaurants serving alcohol to close by midnight.

With the bar ban now in place, Chiu said he is working on additional legislation that would require those selling alcohol in the area to follow “good neighbor” policies currently required of entertainment venues, such as signage, along with staff oversight, that would tell patrons outside to keep their noise levels down.

The bar ban was drafted with the support of the Lower Polk Neighbors, whose chairman, Ron Case, has said the problem has persisted for about three years and this was meant “just to calm things down a little.”

The debate over Polk Street’s evolving dynamics is far from over. A fight continues between merchants and bicyclists over whether to eliminate parking along one side of the Polk Street corridor for a bike lane.

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