I haven't been writing about this much because I'm surrounded by people whose approach to the world is, "Gosh, the more you talk about stuff, the more people might be aware of it, and one of them might make trouble." But, you know, fuck it.
The last time I wrote about this, back in April, our latest hurdle was strong opposition from SFPD. Well, we went round and round, and round and round, and finally got past that. After getting more support from the Entertainment Commission and from our neighbors, we got SFPD to rescind their recommendation of denial, and, in fact, got a letter from the Captain of Southern Station to ABC recommending the approval of our permits "without restrictions".
So, if these were San Francisco permits we were trying to get, we'd have them already. But they're not, they're California permits.
First, we got a draft "approval" from ABC that listed the conditions they intended to place on our permits, which included such gems as: no alcohol sales after midnight; no "bar or lounge area"; sales of alcohol only by waiters at tables; no live entertainment of any kind; no cover charges; and a list of other similar comedy. You couldn't legally operate a Chevy's under those conditions. So, around and around some more, and Barry and I ended up driving up to Sacramento for a meeting with ABC. In this meeting were the Director of ABC, an assistant director, ABC's lawyer; and backing up our side, members of the SFLNC, and one of State Assemblyman Leno's people.
We talked for at least two and a half hours, and got nowhere.
We didn't even have to listen anything from them about how our kitchen is "too small" this time. They made it clear that even if our kitchen was enormous, it wouldn't matter to them. What matters is that we're clearly a concert venue, not a restaurant. "Yes," we said, "we've never claimed we intend to be anything else." We want to be in the same business as numerous other businesses in San Francisco, and so we want to operate as they do, with the same permits that they have.
ABC's position -- and I'm fairly certain that I'm not misrepresenting this in the slightest -- is that there is no permit that allows an under-21 concert hall to exist in the state of California.
What about the fact that I can name twenty such venues in San Francisco alone? Most of which have been in operation for more than twenty years? What was their response to that?
"Well, that's very interesting," the Director of ABC said. "If someone is in violation, we'll have to get around to looking into that eventually."
How about that.
A month later, they finally got around to officially rejecting our application.
You are hereby notified that the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control denied your application for the above-described license(s) because the granting of such license(s) would be contrary to public welfare and morals within the meaning and intent of Article XX, Section 22, of the Constitution of the State of California.
The twelve page document goes on to enumerate our failings of morality and public welfare:
- We are in a high crime neighborhood.
- Our neighborhood gets police calls.
- Slim's and Loft 11 are on our block, and they get police calls. (Interestingly, they didn't accuse DNA Lounge of being a police problem. I guess our recommendation from the Police Captain would have tended to fly in the face of that).
- Our neighborhood gets police calls (they mention that again).
- We have neighbors within 100 feet (and they attached the list of said neighbors that we provided to them).
- We have neighbors within 500 feet (with, again, the list that we provided).
- Neighbors sleep. Did you know?
- There is insufficient off street parking (conveniently ignoring the Costco lot across the street, which I'm sure has never filled up ever).
- Oh, and our kitchen is too small.
What's interesting here is how little this rejection letter has to do with what we discussed in the face-to-face meeting. None of these "crime" issues came up at all in that meeting. So this is obviously another shopping list of every single thing they could possibly think of to object to, just for good measure.
Next, we schedule an appeal hearing. Unlike the hearings we've had in the past, where we'd go downtown and actually speak to the people making the decisions, this hearing will be in front of a judge in Sacramento, and we have to hire a lawyer to plead our case for us. My understanding is that this hearing is with a judge who hears only ABC cases and is unlikely to go against whatever ABC says, and so we'll probably lose that as a matter of course.
After that, many more months go by, and we get another hearing in front of a different judge. I guess that can happen a few more times until we make it to the California Supreme Court, which could take more than two years.