The Man is putting the hurting on San Francisco
clubs, but some people are fighting back. Beajolais! Flesh interviews
Leslie Ayers of the San Francisco Late Night Coalition.
Not too long ago in San Francisco's past, on any given night of the
week, the night life scene was in a class all itself. You could easily
move from one nightclub to another, catching several live acts at
reasonable prices. Those were the days before San Francisco was
overrun by Young Urban Professionals (led by the un-human she-beast Dianne Feinstein) who
quickly began to lay waste to the unique culture and environment that
was known throughout the world as the "City By The Bay."
Enter Leslie Ayers, a modern urban samurai warrior who realizes
that while the day might be theirs, the yuppie scum have yet to turn
San Francisco into the first totally gentrified city in history.
Catching up with her long enough to conduct an interview is no easy
task. To get around the usual games of phone tag and trying to match
up schedules, this interview was conducted over several weeks via
email. If you would like more information on The San Francisco Late
Night Coalition, please visit their Web
Pigdog: First, let's talk for a moment about your
organization. What is it?
The San Francisco Late Night Coalition is a broad-based group of
club owners, promoters, activists, DJs, musicians, artists and
community members. Our goal is to protect, preserve and promote San
Francisco's late night culture.
We work to encourage understanding and awareness of the regulations
and issues surrounding after-hours entertainment in San Francisco, and
to provide a voice for the rights and the passions of this diverse
We are an integral part of the cultural fabric of San Francisco,
and make significant contributions to the economy and artistic
diversity of this city.
The need to take action to preserve after-hours venues was
triggered when a respectable promoter went to city hall to apply for
permits for a well-funded after-hours venue, and was told that was
simply not possible. There is no written moratorium on after-hours
permits in the city, but it's clear that over the past several years,
the police have systematically moved to squash the late-night club
scene. We've lost several major club venues of the past years,
including DV8, the Trocadero, and VSF/Oasis. While there may have
been contributing issues to individual club cases, the pattern has
been set that the police would find life easier without clubs
operating in their districts.
For instance, Ten15 Folsom,
which is one of the premier nightclubs in the world, bringing in the
top electronic music talent from all over the globe, has been the
target of the most recent attempts to revoke licenses. This club has
responded to its neighborhood needs by doing things like spending
almost a million dollars on soundproofing, and channeling money into
local neighborhood schools and activities. They have increased
security to the point that paying guests are frisked like
criminals.... And yet, the authorities apparently think this isn't
So the SFLNC is working to turn the tides. We held our first public
rally in U.N. Plaza, with DJs and speakers, bringing the issue to the
public awareness. We were invited to speak to the city's
committee on small business economic vitality last week for their
hearing on the current moratorium on extended hours permits in the
Polk Street corridor.
What the SFLNC is about is stepping forward to speak up for
after-hours issues. Rather than quietly resigning ourselves to the
situation that the police department would rather have us stay home
sleeping in our beds at night, we want all of the many responsible
citizens who make late-night entertainment a part of their lives to
come forward and speak up while we have this chance. San
Francisco is a world-class city, and world-class cities do not roll up
their sidewalks at night.
Pigdog: It appears that the targeted clubs in question are
dance clubs. How does this affect people who go to non-dance oriented
events? Why should they care?
Most late-night permits are for dance clubs; that's true. There is
some talk about whether food establishments should have different
rules than dance and entertainment venues... but that misses the
point, which is an issue of freedom to pursue leisure activities
without being told what time to go home.
And yes, the police and authorities are targeting dance clubs to
revoke and deny permits. That's today. The scariest part is that what
appears to be behind the push to revoke permits for extended hours is
a "nice people go to bed early" ethic.
At the hearing regarding the Polk Street area moratorium, some
speakers said "It's not that we don't want people to go out at night,
we just don't want them out after 2:00 a.m." Now, for someone who is a
waiter who gets off work at midnight, or a computer programmer who
works into the night, 2:00a.m. is the equivalent of 8:00 p.m. for
those who work a "socially acceptable" 9-6 day.
Our society is moving more towards a 24-hour society. Look at rush
hour, which used to be from 7-8 am; now the freeways are full at 6:00
am until 10:00 am or later. Our "flex-time" schedules have been
created to adapt to the modern times, and that must be reflected in
our leisure activities. It's going to take some planning and
attention, but we have to take on that challenge now, before we allow
our options to be whittled away.
If the police now target dance venues as being inconvenient to have
open after-hours, then we're naive to think they'll want to stop
there. What's in their best interest is if all the well-behaved
citizens stay peacefully in their homes all the time. But we can't
suppress our lives for the convenience of those who should be there to
support and protect us as we live our lives freely.
Again, world-class cities do not roll up their sidewalks at
Pigdog: Many people say that the crackdown in SOMA won't
effect them, because they don't go to commercial-based nightclubs. How
will this affect them?
I'm a part of the underground rave scene as well as a dedicated
clubgoer, which is one reason I wanted to become active in saving the
licensed after-hours clubs. There are definite parallels between the
police pressure on clubs and the police pressure on raves, which
increased to the point that it is pretty impossible to have a peaceful
all-night underground dance event in San Francisco any more.
If the commercial venues are eradicated, you can be assured that
the underground private parties will be next. Because part of the goal
for the police, it appears, is that there be as little activity as
possible on the streets during the night. They would be thrilled if we
all went to bed at 10:00 p.m.
Pigdog: Why should people outside of the Bay Area
People outside the Bay Area should know that this would effect them
if they ever have any intention of visiting this wonderful city and
having any choices of nighttime entertainment. Not to mention
many possible conversations about personal freedom in America, and
whether having police dictate what we do for fun, and when we do it,
is a frightening case of the tail wagging the dog.
Pigdog: The police, in support for their crackdown are saying
that there's a rampant drug problem. In particular, GHB. Is there as
bad of a problem as they say?
Yes, the police do use drug use and overdoses as evidence to
support their campaign. And it would be ridiculous to deny that there
are problems in our society at large from irresponsible drug use.
However, as often is the case, clubs are taking the blame for
something that happens everywhere.
The other day, several young teenagers got hold of what appears to
be ecstasy at school and were taken to the hospital because they were
under the influence of drugs. Yet no one would think it would be
logical to consider shutting down that middle school. Instead, the
media chose to use clips of nightclubs in discussing the drug use at
school! This is a ludicrous association. Can you imagine having a
news item about teenagers getting drunk at school and showing footage
of rowdy bars to illustrate the story?
Pigdog: How would you propose in fixing this
The dance and after-hours communities have begun to address the
dangers of irresponsible drug usage in many ways, because they are
interested in creating safe and fun environments for their
There is an organization called DanceSafe, which offers testing,
and information services to people who would like to be knowledgeable
if they choose to take substances. Through education and information,
they are working to make a difference.
And most large dance and entertainment events have strong security
in place to keep controlled substances out, and to eject drug
dealers. The change is very apparent. Five years ago, you could find
fairly blatant availability and use of illegal substances (of course,
alcohol use is still blatant, and still dangerous, though
illegal). Now I, as a clubgoer, rarely see any evidence of drug use in
nightclubs, including rarely seeing patrons who appear to be under the
influence of anything other than alcohol.
In part this is due to police pressure to the clubs that they
jeopardize their licenses if any of their adult customers are caught
with drugs... again, an irony of selective blame. I doubt that Muni
would be held responsible if someone were found on a bus with a
suitcase full of crack cocaine, yet a club is expected to be
responsible if a customer comes in with something hidden in their
I do think that public awareness of dangerous substances like GHB
must be increased. Contrary to some reports, information about GHB
says that it's not likely to kill anyone, but it does induce a
coma-like state if taken with any alcohol or in a hard-to-predict
overdose quantity. And people who appear to be in comas need medical
attention, even if their state is temporary and doing no apparent
physical harm to them. And certainly we need to discourage this in
The problem is worsened, though, when a club offers necessary
medical care to a patron, and is then blackballed by police somehow as
a place that promotes drug use. We need to make education and medical
attention be the benchmark of responsible club management, and not
penalize business owners who are dealing with the reality of our
society by blackballing them for problems that their customers
People should care about this -- even if they don't go to
after-hours clubs in San Francisco -- because the selective pressure
of the police, apparently based on judgments of what's appropriate
leisure activity for our citizens has frightening implications for
personal freedom everywhere.
Pigdog: Austin Texas realized that the clubs and halls in the
area of town were bringing so much money in, that they not only gave
up trying to shut down the clubs, but shut the streets down to
encourage pedestrian traffic, and tax breaks to the clubs in
general. Has anything like this been proposed to the city?
I'm not remembering if it was Austin or Houston, but you're right,
they created a special pedestrian club zone. That is one solution to a
situation, and a great one, particularly because it acknowledges the
economic contribution of clubs. But the SFLNC doesn't think it's one
that would work for San Francisco, which is, after all, a large city
that is famous for its art and nightlife, and which has existing
nightlife venues throughout the city.
Pigdog: What is SF Sheriff Mike Hennesy's opinion (if any) on
I don't recall any comments by Sheriff Hennessy, but we are in
ongoing communication with members of the police department,
neighborhood associations and business owners to move forward in
creating a sense of community that includes us night owls as well.
Pigdog: Currently, is their any middle ground that may be
Supervisor Gavin Newsome has drawn up a first step of legislation
to address how we can define a middle ground, and his initial draft
targeted the zone that would include the south of market area that
includes 11th street, where there are many clubs. He shared his
legislation with the SFLNC to invite our comments, and we see many
potential areas where we'll all benefit from defining what is
workable. These include sound measurement issues and how new
residential construction would need to address sound insulation in
certain areas. We don't feel, though, that "ghetto-izing" late night
venues is the solution in a large city. Rather, we're working with
him to come up with some guidelines that will provide for the concerns
of residents, business owners and customers. We'd also like to
see a new permit process in place, because we currently have the
police department in charge of permits, and there must be a better
The SFLNC would also like to see better communication between
residents and business owners in their neighborhood, so that problems
or annoyances can be quickly dealt with without having to take police
time at all.
That's a primary goal of the SFLNC. We are committed
to creating a sense of community that includes the nighttime
businesses, and will be planning a number of events to that end.
Certainly we feel we can find a middle ground. At the Supervisor
Committee hearing this month, it was clear that Supervisor Newsome and
Supervisor Leno wanted to look at how other cities have addressed the
24-hour nature of entertainment there (such as Houston/Austin (?) and
Las Vegas), and how we can retain the creative nature of our city and
keep everyone's concerns in mind.
Pigdog: In front of you is a big shiny red candy-colored
button. It's a nice looking button. If you push it, the ongoing war
against the San Francisco nightlife will stop. But at the same time, a
cage will open up, releasing a thousand rabid, starving weasels into
the Mayor's house. Would you push it?
Actually, in front of me are several big shiny red candy-colored
buttons. They say "Save San Francisco Nightlife! SFLNC" on them, and
they're decorating the Christmas tree on my desk.
These buttons are the representation of my personal commitment to
the SFLNC, and to saving our nightlife. I had this slightly
megalomaniac desire to see a visible sign identifying those of us who
thrive in the night, but look like just one of the vast millions in
the day.... So I had these red buttons made. At our mayoral forum last
week, it blew me away to see every soul in that room wearing a
Now, Willie may have suspected that a cage had opened up releasing
a thousand rabid, starving weasels, but I'm really hoping he saw that
we're not the rabid, starving weasels he thought. Rather, we're really
just like every other neighbor, except we like to dance all night
long. And we wear big shiny red candy colored buttons.
Sorry, but I'd never sic weasels on Da Mayor. Especially now that
he's won re-election, we need to gain his respect, not his horror!