3-Dec-2007 (Mon)
Wherein are enumerated our failings of morality and public welfare.

You may be curious about the status on our ongoing project of trying to make it possible for us to do under-21 shows here.

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:

  1. We are in a high crime neighborhood.
  2. Our neighborhood gets police calls.
  3. 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).
  4. Our neighborhood gets police calls (they mention that again).
  5. We have neighbors within 100 feet (and they attached the list of said neighbors that we provided to them).
  6. We have neighbors within 500 feet (with, again, the list that we provided).
  7. Neighbors sleep. Did you know?
  8. There is insufficient off street parking (conveniently ignoring the Costco lot across the street, which I'm sure has never filled up ever).
  9. 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.

Good times.

32 Responses:

  1. Are you *sure* running a nightclub is less hassle than writing software for a living?

    Young, impressionable minds want to know.

  2. jered says:

    Maybe it's just living in Boston, but my understanding of how you get permits for anything related to licensing is that it has no basis in the merits, but rather bribing the right people. Except it's not officially called bribing, because that would be, you know, illegal.

    Does it work this way in California? Have you tried this approach? Does the Director of the ABC have enough boats yet, or a fresh paint job on the new kitchen addition he needs?

    • xrayspx says:

      We've got our own problems, since Avalon and Axis are busy being merged into Jillians Two - Corporate Whore edition, and the Roxy got clipped from 1500 down to 750 max. cap. (have you BEEN to a show there lately? Security just about outnumbered customers), there are pretty much no venues between 750 and 2000 capacity anymore. Now everything either has to go to the Orpheum or Providence or North Hampton. All those answers suck.

      As I understand it, when the new complex opens from the ashes of Avalon/Axis/Modern, it will have gone from 3 venues (~300 cap Modern, ~1400 Axis and 2000 Avalon) into a single 3000 cap space. So that kind of prices it out of the range of bands that would have booked Axis I would think. And cuts out half the shows that managed to happen before (I don't count the Modern as a "concert venue" even though I went to some trance dealy there once).

  3. lnghnds says:

    Maybe you should be applying for your permit from Oracle, instead.

  4. thirdwired says:

    ...And in my rich personal experience, California ABC is very much one of them.

    Doubtless they all think the public are morons, and they would seem to serve the public interest by being even more moronic. Setting an example, ya know.

  5. pdkl95 says:

    You know, you'll have to let your (theoretical?) lazyweb army of fanboys know when it's time to go march on capital and such. Not that I would expect such actions to actually effect change, but I wonder how big of an army you could muster if you tried.

    Oh, wait - they'd probably just call you a dangerous terrorist organizer or something for even mentioning the idea...

    • waider says:

      besides, it's hard to march on anything when you're sitting in front of a browser hitting "refresh" every five seconds.

  6. xrayspx says:

    I can't believe this is still a problem. I inferred from your silence and your successful kitchen license that everything was somehow magically "handled".

    A Supreme Court case taking several years from start to finish, all so you can have people with beers and plastic straps on their wrists standing next to people with great big 'X's on their hands who have no beers. Fantastic.

    And to think at one point your decision was "Deal with Time Warner" or "Open a Night Club". In fact scratch that, you still made the right choice.

    For what it's worth, since this is now a state thing and not just an SF thing, I can expand the 10 or 15 venues you can name off the top of your head to include everything in California that hits these guidelines. I've still got that list.

    • strspn says:

      It's not making it to the Supreme Court. It's the second time in court when you get to a superior court judge that these things work out. You actually have a chance in front of the administrative law judge, but only if the agency made a substantial error, and substantial is a matter of degree which depends of the phase of the moon.

      The ABC meeting bizarreness sounds like the director blowing off steam.

  7. acroyear70 says:

    nice attitude, california arsehats...sheesh.

    btw, did you notice that the lounge got a mention on the AP feed (paragraph 1 at that) for hosting The Mutaytor this week?

    http://www.dailyamerican.com/articles/2007/12/03/entertainment/entertainment257.txt

    (not sure how long that'll stay active, given that most sites drop their AP history after a week or so.)

  8. rodgerd says:

    ...a persistent son of a bitch. Kudos.

  9. kyronfive says:

    This is fucking lunacy. If this is a California licensing issue, and not specifically San Francisco, how in the fuck does the ABC account for the fact that 18+ venues in LA are a dime a dozen? I can probably name you 15 clubs in LA off the top of my head that do 18+ and all of them -- to the best of my knowledge -- have full bars and are in neighborhoods where police calls happen.

  10. defenestr8r says:

    you know, when i imagined you taking on the supreme court, this was NOT what it was about.

  11. cnoocy says:

    Not to ask a dumb question, but do the other under-21 concert venues operating in SF do so legally?

    • jwz says:

      Well, according to the Director of ABC, they are not doing so legally.

      The more relevant question is, "how did they get their permits", and the answer is, "they did so more than twenty years ago, when whoever was in charge at the time didn't hold this lunatic opinion."

      • jmtd says:

        By the sounds of it, the permits they've obtained are specific to the venues. I was just wondering if acquiring a permit by buying out an existing club might be one option. But I guess that would mean moving into their premises too.

  12. shakti_mouse says:

    My good friend is having a huge amount of trouble in Atlanta getting a liquor license for our underground event center. Round and round he has gone with the local neighborhood association and they pretty much sound just like this crap.

    seriously, petty tyrants

  13. Most of your updates recently have been either posting mixtapes, or about the DNA Sequencing log being updated. This leaves little room for actual content on a regular basis. If you were still updating your gruntle page, this journal would be just a redirection service, albeit a useless one.

    My assumption is that the people who read your journal and don't read the DNA log (and vice versa) most likely won't ever read the other. They must know that each of them exist, especially the LJ readers since you have both the homepage, log, and calender for the club in your links list.

    The mixtapes are worth updating on the LJ, but not on the DNA log. You don't update the log every time a show is added to the archive. (It would be nice if the mixtapes had an RSS feed.)

  14. Think about it this way: if you have an under-21 event, you could be making significantly less money. The more space 18 year olds are taking up, the less space a 21 year old alcoholic is taking up, leading to less profit. Plus, what if the 18-20 year old is a smoker, and can't be allowed the in-and-out privileges?

    • jwz says:

      How much of a moron do you think I am, exactly? Do you think I'd have been fighting this battle for two and a half years if I didn't understand exactly what the economics of it were? Jesus Christ. Go away.

      • karlshea says:

        Out of curiosity, what are the economics of it?

        I work at a nightclub that tried an 18+ event a couple of years ago, and it totally didn't work.

        Of course, they could only sell soda when anyone under 21 was in the bar, so the bartenders all hated it because no one tipped them for anything. Everyone over 21 went downstairs to the bar that could sell liquor.

        I imagine that it would be slightly better if there was a wristband-type situation with mixed sales.

        • jwz says:

          You can't book live music if you're 21+ and there exist 18+ options in your city.

          End of story.

          In theory, you make more money on booze if everyone in the room is a consumer of booze. But in this case we're not comparing "all ages night" against "21+ night". We're comparing it against "closed".

          • 205guy says:

            So, in other words, the kitchen and permit is a workaround to this rule, which is just a nasty side effect of the drinking age in the US.

            If you can't beat them, join them: open a church of music and pass the collection basket during breaks. Voila, no permits needed to run a church.

          • karlshea says:

            Makes sense to me.

  15. latchkey says:

    i appreciate your enthusiasm for fighting the ABC. i agree, it is a complete conspiracy. i've been before the ABC judges before and it isn't pretty. winning a case like this would be like the mitchell bro's winning the right to show porn in a theater. heh.

    so, beyond your massive ego, what makes you think that the supreme court is going to be any more (il)logical than an ABC judge and side in your favor?

    from their perspective, you have been open and operating for many years, why should they bother to allow you to change your license now? why do they care about allowing you to mix 18+ with 21+ just because someone allowed it 20+ years ago?

    all it will take is one mother from MADD to stand up and extol some statistic that having one more bar with an 18+ license caused the death of 3 of her welfare children and your case will be thrown right out. kind of like what happened to the sflnc when they tried to get 24 hour drinking.

    given all that, there is a tiny bit of hope for you... have your lawyers look this one up...

    there is a case in San Diego taken before the federal judge Irma Gonzales that attacks the city's and states rights to limit xxxshops without giving them a location for the particular type of business they would like to open. The legal theory was enjoining the government entity from stopping shop owners from having a particular type of shop by regulatory agencies unless the regulatory agency gave them a venue to exist. The Federal Judge granted the restraining order against all state agencies unless and until they found a place for the unique shop to open....a very expensive proposition for the state and city. it has been applied to pool hall with booze businesses, clothing store (jeans) businesses, and sex shops with booze permits.