Speech to the Board of Permit Appeals
My name is Jamie Zawinski, and I am buying the DNA Lounge. This is
Barry Synoground, my business partner and, if things go well,
soon-to-be the club's general manager.
I was one of the initial employees of Netscape, and have been
working in the software industry for fifteen years. Barry is a
publisher, and has seven years of management experience.
When I moved to the Bay Area in 1989, one of the things that
impressed me most about San Francisco was its artistic culture.
It seemed like I was seeing a good band twice a week. And not
just bands, but all kinds of performances: acrobatic dance troops,
giant flaming robots, things I'd never seen before in my life.
And I knew this was the city I belonged in.
In the last few years, things have changed.
I'm here to tell you that San Francisco's artistic culture is
dying. It's not dead yet, but it is seriously suffering. I'm trying
to do my part to reverse that trend. That's why I'm here today:
to stop complaining about it, and to do something about it.
In San Francisco today, there just aren't many venues for small to
medium sized bands. There are hardly any options filling the gap
between a small bar, and a huge concert hall. The DNA Lounge fits in
to that gap very nicely, and is centrally located, near other clubs,
public transportation, and lots of parking.
The DNA Lounge has been operating as a nightclub in its present
form since 1985, and has been a bar since 1977. The DNA currently
has permits that give it the option of doing business 7 days a week
until 6AM. It has had these permits for at least ten years, possibly
longer. In this time it has had very few complaints from
neighbors or from the police. In fact, compared to many of the other
clubs in the city, it has been a model neighbor, and a model club.
Since I am buying an existing business, and plan to operate the
same kind of business in the same location, I am here asking you to
grant me the same permits as are in effect there today.
In other words, I am asking you to lift the Police Commission
restrictions on hours of operation, and on new patron entry, and
re-entry of smokers.
Let me say a few words about our intentions.
My background, like thousands and thousands of San Francisco's
newest wave of immigrants, is in the high-tech industry. Many of these
people work very long, very non-traditional hours -- 60, 80, 100 hours
We want to open a high-tech environment that caters to these
people -- lots of cutting-edge technology mixed with bands, dancing,
plays, and performance art.
The most amazing thing about the internet is not that it's an easy
way to buy stuff, but rather that it is a whole new communications
medium that has given birth a new form of community. What I'm excited
about here is seeing what happens when you take the old kind of
physical community, and the new kind of virtual community, and merge
them. For example: if a club's web site has interviews with each
performer, then the web site isn't just an advertisement, now it's a
magazine. If everything the bands and djs are playing goes out live
over the net, then the web site isn't just a magazine, it's a radio
station. And if the people reading and listening can interact with
each other, whether they're in the club, or in Finland, then it's not
just a radio station, now it's a community that crosses all boundaries.
I find this idea very exciting, and see it as a logical extension of
what I've been working on for years.
We are not opening a disco, and do not need to drive huge crowds to
our space. A number of late-night clubs have closed recently, and we
find that our friends in the internet industry are having a great deal
of trouble finding safe, regulated places to socialize and experience
This is not what San Francisco is about and this situation is not
good for the city. The city is losing cultural diversity.
We feel that the law is very clear on this: late-night permits are
legal. And the planning code makes it clear that the primary
consideration for whether to grant such permits is whether the club
owners will be good neighbors. We're responsible business people who
will definitely be good neighbors. Let me tell you a little about what
we've done so far:
- First, we have been knocking on doors and attending various
community meetings to gauge our neighbors' response. For the most
part, we have found a great deal of neighborhood support for the DNA.
We sent you some letters from residents, and many others are here to
testify. We have many more letters -- too many to send. We have
support from a vast majority of the neighborhood.
In your packets, you will find letters from four neighbors, including
our closest neighbor. Additionally, we have many other letters of
support from various SOMA and San Francisco residents: too many to
Most people move to SOMA for the diverse culture, and most have had
no problems with the DNA. We're happy that a number of them are here
tonight to testify.
- Second, we have been meeting with the business community that
has an interest in the neighborhood. We have found near-unanimous
support from business-people. A lot of industries depend on the
economic activity of SOMA clubs, either directly or indirectly. Our
club will help these businesses, their workers, and the city's economy
as a whole.
- Third, we have been meeting with artists and patrons of clubs.
There is general agreement that San Francisco is losing its late-night
venues and diverse cultural spaces. We are all worse off as a result.
This is one reason why the San
Francisco Late Night Coalition, a grass-roots organization of
hundreds of San Franciscans, has come together: to protect these places
where art and community happen. You will find a letter from one of the
founders of this organization in your packet.
Again, for those who work non-traditional hours, it is increasingly
difficult to find safe, well-regulated places to go unwind after work.
Many of my friends and co-workers don't even get off work until
midnight or 1AM!
- Fourth, we have been working to resolve the two limited and
specific complaints that came up at our permit hearing.
- One resident has had occasional problems with the bass at the
DNA. We have commissioned KDA Architects to put together a
soundproofing plan outlining measures that we intend to take if we are
granted the permits.
- Another resident had problems with noise from those people who
step out of the club to smoke. We have commissioned Lawrence &
Eagleson, a Novato security firm run by an ex-FBI officer and staffed
by off-duty police officers, and will instruct them that noise from any
of our patrons outside the club is a top priority. Frankly, between
the drug dealing, pan-handlers, and the freeway noise already on the
street, we feel a visible security presence like ours can only improve
the neighborhood for everyone.
- In addition, we have decided, based upon our meetings with
community groups (as well as plain old common sense) that it is a good
idea to set up a hotline that must be answered any time we are open,
and we will be distributing this number to all of our neighbors.
- There are a number of specific elements in the Good Neighbor
Policy dealing with toilets, signs, trash pick-up, and so on. We'll
spare you the details, but please know that we are familiar with these
requirements, and will exceed them: we want to have great relationships
with all of our neighbors, and we want them to know that we are always
available to them.
- Finally, please take a look at the map of our neighborhood.
One of the reasons that this is a particularly prime location for a
club is the hundreds of parking spaces just a few dozen feet from our
door. This is unique for San Francisco, and will allow us to take care
of our clients' parking needs with minimal impact on the neighborhood.
And minimal impact is exactly what we take being a good neighbor to
Let me also point out that I too am a SOMA resident. I live in a
loft! I live half a block from a nightclub! And a big part of why I
moved here was because of the proximity to the clubs. This
neighborhood is where I live my life, during the day and night.
In closing, let me reiterate my reasons for doing this.
This is a business, and I fully understand how to run the business.
But I'm not doing this because I think it's good way to make money
(I'll let you in on a little secret: it's not.) I'm doing
this to give something back to the city I've made my home. I see
a lack, I see a problem that needs to be fixed. Someone needs to
fix it. And it might as well be me.
Thanks for listening.