SF keeps eye on dark side of nightlife 

click to enlarge Vajra Granelli, an Entertainment Commission inspector, walks past revelers at Public Works in the Mission district. - JOSEPH SCHELL/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Joseph Schell/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Vajra Granelli, an Entertainment Commission inspector, walks past revelers at Public Works in the Mission district.

Two or three nights every week, Vajra Granelli hits the town to see what San Francisco’s nightlife has to offer.

But he is not looking to party.

Granelli is the sole inspector with the Entertainment Commission. And with more than 400 permits to keep tabs on — such as for live music and DJs — he has his work cut out for him.

Watching out for everything from noise complaints to violence, Granelli stops by bars and clubs unannounced to ensure they are abiding by the permit regulations.

Until 2010, the commission could only revoke a permit if an application had been falsified. But in August of that year, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom gave the board the authority to revoke, suspend or place restrictions on licenses for troubled clubs.

“It definitely gives us more bite,” Granelli said. “It’s a way to hold their feet to the fire” to comply.

On a recent Saturday night, Granelli allowed The San Francisco Examiner to come along while he visited four neighborhoods, all of which had varied crowds and scenes.

For instance, after leaving the busy but calm atmosphere of Polk Street, Granelli received a call from police Inspector Rich Van Koll, who had requested assistance at a large event at the Mission district’s Public Works.

Granelli said the club typically hosts large events, but the inaccurate counts of the number of attendees and the crowd-control issues he witnessed upon arrival were not to his liking.

“This is typically not a crowd that brings problems,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m not happy with what I’m seeing.”

Granelli took a quick look around the two-story venue and said he would return in an hour or so to ensure changes to security and crowd control were made. He also noted that the venue is often compliant.

While in the area, Granelli and Van Koll made a stop at the live-music venue Brick and Mortar Music Club. Granelli described it as an “active case.”

Living in a dense city, one of the biggest complaints the Entertainment Commission and the Police Department deal with is noise. Granelli said Brick and Mortar soundproofed its facade, but noise continues to emanate from the back.

“My guess is it’s leaking out of vents or a skylight,” he said. “It’s quality-of-life issues. We can’t govern the way people behave, but we can and do have extensive regulations on sound.”

Van Koll added that the music venue also failed to have security at the door or outside — which is often required — to keep the sidewalk clear.

“It’s a lot of common sense,” Van Koll said. “Loitering, noise, crowd control — it all has to be dealt with.”

One club that does have numerous security guards both inside and out is Sloane at 10th and Mission streets. Around midnight, a half-dozen security guards chased after a patron suspected of pick-pocketing smartphones. A number of guards tried to catch the person, but there were still others left to keep an eye on the venue.

“This is one club that does it right,” Granelli said while walking through Sloane.

The same night Granelli made the rounds with The San Francisco Examiner, a shooting occurred at 2:18 a.m. in North Beach. As of press time, it was uncertain if those involved — including a 19-year-old victim — had been to a club or bar in the area, but Granelli and the Police Department are investigating the incident.

“I cannot say much because it is an ongoing investigation,” Granelli said. “But we will enforce if we find it was tied to a club.”

When Granelli started in his position seven years ago, the focus was on addressing issues as they came up — a reactive approach. Now it’s more proactive. The commission strives to be ahead of issues that arise by requiring increased safety and security plans and continued discussions with neighbors. But with 400 locations to check on, Granelli’s days are often long.

“We want people to be safe and happy,” he said. “If people come here and they’re well-behaved, they’ll have fun and that’s what we want.”

Website helps city broaden its oversight

The Entertainment Commission was formed nearly 10 years ago to regulate nightlife in The City. But it was not until two years ago that it was empowered to enforce the rules it created.

The commission can add extra conditions or suspend a permit for any venue that does not abide by the rules. Its focus is on nightlife safety, and one way to ensure that is to create liability and responsibility for venues and events.

In 2010, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom gave the commission more authority to revoke permits for trouble spots. Before then, it could only revoke permits if an application was falsified.

Fines from the commission range from $100 to several thousands of dollars, depending on the violation.

Additionally, in order to increase liability, an online database was launched this month for third-party promoters to register with The City.

The promoters became an issue in 2008 and 2009 after a spate of violence.

The problems reached a boiling point when a German tourist was killed after being caught in the crossfire of a shooting near Union Square. Those involved were said to have attended a nearby event put on by a third-party promoter. The promoter was not registered, and it was tough for The City to get in touch with organizers.

The online registry is aimed at preventing questions of responsibility when violence occurs, giving The City a starting point in any potential investigation, Entertainment Commissioner Jocelyn Kane said.

Nightlife in San Francisco is a $4.2 billion industry, according to a report released in March by the City Controller’s Office. It employs 48,000 people and generates $55 million in tax revenue.

“A vibrant city has a real nightlife economy,” Entertainment Commissioner Vajra Granelli said. “We don’t want it to be ruined by draining resources and causing problems.”


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