Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The West Soma Plan and Entertainment discussionafter the He Said She said blog

So after sleeping on what we read in Live SoMa we feel it is needed for us to say first and foremost it is not us against Jim Meko. We are not in a battle with Jim. We are not trying to discredit Jim and actually would rather not be on the other end of any argument with him. This is about a discussion that has been ongoing in our communities. Entertainment in West SoMa is not a new idea and certainly this is not the first or last time we will open this discussion. When we talk to bar and club owners, artists in the area, people who work in bars and clubs, new bar and club owners, and the many many people who have settled in SoMa for the diverse entertainment possibilities as well as other reasons; most or many do not know anything about this West SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force nor the plan.

There are many reasons for that such as the great turn over in residents in the area, the turn over of business in the area, and poor outreach to Entertainment venues and small business. So we have been listening to these people and businesses and asking what they see as a issues and some changes they would like to see. We wanted to start an open dialogue around this with a group of people who have been investigating these issues with me before the plan is adopted by Planning. These people include members of the Harvey Milk Club, residents, club and bar owners, and continued outreach to the Queer Communities, Folsom Street Events, CMAC, and the Entertainment Commission as well as listening to the people who show up at Planning Commission Meetings to voice their concerns about these issues.

This is not a battle and not a war. This is not even such a huge ask that we have started fleshing out. The manner that it has been portrayed by Live SoMa is exactly what we did not want. It is counter productive behavior to open dialogue to sensationalize this issue and make it a He Said She Said article.

So please allow us to state the asks we have heard from the communities that have voiced an issue in this matter.

1. Protection for the clubs on 11th street. There is minimal housing on 11th street and many many clubs. In fact several have just reopened like Beat Box. As is commonly known at present clubs and housing do not mix. Why would we continue to place housing on 11th street? They don't mix and it is just asking for a head ache. When the new Entertainment Zone is slated for South of Harrison Street and this zone comes right up to 11th street why can it not include 1 block of 11th street known for entertainment venues.

Venues that events like Folsom Street are having trouble finding to fit their crowds when visiting our fair city. Folsom Street Fair is the second largest generator of tourist dollars in our city after Gay Pride. As a city we should also consider the needs and hardships that have been facing in the last 5-10 years.

One neighbor who complained over and over about Slim's almost shut down this venerable institution. Many of the complaints came on nights the club was not open but never the less the ABC came in and shut down this venue. The resident even had in their lease a provision that stated this is an Entertainment Zone with night time noise but even that didn't help prevent problems with housing and Nightlife. Also it has been told to me by Jim Meko that this Condo was not built to standards up to code that would prevent this from happening.

Solutions can come in many forms. Extend the Entertainment Zone down 11th street. Create a Special Use District for that block allowing Entertainment some needed protection. Make Entertainment a permitted use on 11th street so that existing venues have some protection against encroachment of neighbors. Make sure that Development be responsible when building next to night life venues. Allow tenants to hold these developers responsible for the work that they have done as well as the nightlife venues. Just to name a few. This is not language that should start a war but to curtail problems for future residents of SoMa. Again No war please.

2. The first ever Queer Historical District is to be created in West SoMa. This along with a Filipino Cultural District will help preserve the history of this area. Gail Rubens an amazing Queer Historian has given many presentations about SoMa and it's Queer History. She has really opened up the conversation for why Queer Culture has all but vanished and continues to struggle in SoMa today. In the 80's the bath houses were shut down and the hundreds of Gay men who poured into the neighborhood to experience a part of our culture ceased. Then with Willie Brown in the 90's we lost the ability for new Entertainment Permits in the area and this legislation also curtailed improvements like soundproofing and significant improvements to existing bars and clubs in the West SoMa area. This legislation crippled the industry even further and has continued during this time of economic down turn. Another part of this issue is that once a bar or club has been dormant for 2 to 3 (I am unsure of the length of time exactly) years the Entertainment license disappears. Since there are no new Entertainment Permits permitted in this area we have lost many venues never to return. We have strangled many corner stone businesses right out of existence and created a vacuum that is causing problems for any business to survive.

Some solutions that have been suggested are that we allow these businesses; who for one reason or another; retain their Entertainment Licenses for a 5 to 6 year period or indefinitely so that during times of economic strife we do not continue to loose such businesses. Allow Entertainment to be a permitted use along Folsom and to extend the LGBT Historical District onto Folsom to help continue to allow for Queer Heritage to be a living one and not just a memory designated by plaques and the like. I agree that large clubs in housing areas is not the best idea but not all nightlife is megga watt entertainment. The Powerhouse, Hole In The Wall and KOK bar have all been good neighbors and struggle to keep Queer Culture alive in SoMa. If we recognize that they are part of the community fabric and other small businesses could do the same if permitted. Folsom is going to be the main street or High street in British terms and slated for a commercial use zone. It has been voiced that perhaps this could include bars and small entertainment venues. I have even heard that along 9th and 10th that these permits would also be welcome because these areas are not going to be zoned as residential. Again this is not Entertainment everywhere but on commercial corridors that are in need of invigoration and corner stone businesses. Let the new Large clubs open past Harrison in the SALI area. Allowing Entertainment to be a permitted use on commercial corridors is not in our eyes such a great ask. In fact it goes along with residents and entertainment on top of one another is a bad idea. So is it bad to have entertainment on commercial corridors?

Queer nightlife and space has been disappearing rapidly. Queer culture sees it's entertainment venues to be places to strengthen communities and serve members of it's communities that need help in many areas. An example is the loss of the Eagle; for whatever reasons; has many not for profits scrambling to make up monies lost. One such organization Tenderloin Tessies who feed AIDS sufferers and shut ins has lost 2K a year just by the closing of the Eagle. We as a city can't mandate that a venue stay open but we can see this issue and realize that Entertainment can and is a benefit to communities and in particular Queer Communities. To continue to limit these venues limits the ability for the Queer communities to rally and aid those in need that for whatever reason rely on Not For Profits for survival.

However let me for warn us all. Many of the issues attributed to Nightlife are not Club related. Party Busses are a great cause of disturbance in these neighborhoods. Party Buses allow all out uncensored drinking and then dump between 30-60 very inebriated people onto the streets of our city. Loss of space concentrates more and more the people who come to our world class city into fewer and fewer spaces and thus overcrowding causes even more issues around nightlife. When Diane Feinstein removed the ability for restaurants to stay open late we lost a very useful tool for controlling noise after clubs close by offering patrons places to go and sober up before going home. Perhaps we can learn from these mistakes and try to work toward a better understanding of how to work with our Entertainment and include them in the planning process that lay ahead and find creative positive solutions for our neighborhoods.

I also hear about "needles in bushes" as a problem of nightlife. Drug addiction is not a nightlife issue it is a health issue. People who use drugs have the largest recidivism rate in our city. That is because we do not view this as a health issue but as a criminal act. If we want fewer "needles in our bushes" we must treat the health issues and mental issues of homeless peoples, drug users, and those in need. Safe Use Sights, better funding for needle exchange and mental health are certainly more constructive than wasteful and costly incarceration.

In truth these very small asks have been met with such venomous replies and words of "war" we feel it is our duty to point out that really these asks are not so large that they undermine the whole of the Western SoMa Plan. Instead they are ways to try and strike a balance. With almost 50% of new housing vacant in SoMa it is very hard to see the need for 11th street to be taken over when it is the cultural nightlife seat in West SoMa.

None of this was really discussed in the Live Soma article not to mention the long term residents who make their living in these venues.

We must be open to find ways to integrate our cultural legacy and not rely so heavily on the Development cash that has helped to destroy the vibrancy of our neighborhoods for a quick fix. The ability to see problems created in the past and how to avoid them in the future is good planning and although some solutions have been offered many have yet to be discussed with the Task Force.

Again this is not a war. War is costly and destructive and preserving culture is not either of those. It is instead forward thinking and needed to preserve culture and vibrant neighborhoods. This is the type of conversation I wished to have not a he said she said fight in the press. However the unwillingness of those in charge of the West SoMa Task force to even entertain these ideas has caused quite a rift in the planning group with some being heard and others not. I hope we can welcome al;l concerns to the table in the future and come up with a historic and community minded plan that looks at the fabric of our neighborhoods, uses new technology to mitigate problems, and more involvement from nightlife and resident concerns to see what the middle ground is. We all live here together and it is best when all investors are given equal voice so that we can avoid even the whisper that this need be a war.