15-Feb-2010 (Mon)
Wherein we get another ticket for loitering on our own sidewalk.

We got another ticket this Saturday night around midnight, which was (in writing) for "Violating the Good Neighbor Policy", and was (verbally) for "blocking the sidewalk". Same as on New Year's Eve.

I guess I can assume that we're going to be getting one of these tickets every week from now on. The last time, Barry wasted at least 6 hours standing in line to find out that the ticket was "invalid". Forcing my managers to waste a day a week standing around at the Hall of Justice is going to prove to be very expensive very quickly, even if these tickets don't end up costing a fine as well.

Here's how Saturday night went:

At around 11pm, the notorious Officer Bertrand pulled up in front of DNA in an unmarked car (continuing to make good on his threat that we'd be "seeing a lot more of him"). He barked that we needed "to do something about the sidewalk", then drove his car across the street to Butter, which apparently got shut down for capacity issues. (Accomplishing this apparently took four squad cars, plus the unmarked Bertrand/Ott car. Butter is not a big place.)

At 11:30pm, Sgt. Mannix arrived and began yelling at our back-door security to "have the line cleared off the sidewalk".

At the time, we had an orderly double-file line up against the wall running down to the corner. The sidewalk was not even remotely blocked: there was five or six feet of open space between the line and the curb. Nevertheless, Mannix screamed that if the line wasn't dispersed immediately, we were getting a citation, and our customers were going to be cited for "loitering".

After rooting around in the police car trunk and pulling out what looked like riot gear, Mannix videotaped our line for a few minutes, then said, "this isn't working", and ordered another officer to write us a ticket. This order was given with obvious glee. The elapsed time between being ordered to turn away our customers and getting the ticket was thirteen minutes. During that time, we had cleared away sixty feet of the line, in a calm, safe and orderly manner, but apparently that wasn't fast enough for SF's screaming finest.

I emphasize that it was still before midnight, on a Saturday.

The officer who actually wrote the ticket made a point of saying that he was sorry that he had been ordered to write it, and that in the five years that this had been his beat, we'd always kept very good control of our events, and that our staff had been helpful to the police on many occasions.

Later, it got even crazier: at 1:55am, a number of cops on foot, plus 6 marked and at least 2 unmarked police cars converged on Mist, across the street. An unmarked vehicle closed off the northbound side of 11th Street, and the police began herding people down the block. There were no apparent arrests, just a big, unnecessary show of force. We kept our customers inside until the gang of police dispersed at 2:05am.

DNA's staff are unaware of any triggering incident. Mist had a thuggy crowd, but there didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary about them.

I guess we can expect to see these gestapo tactics every weekend as well, since SFPD seem to feel that that approach worked so great for them when they "cleaned up" North Beach.

As you may recall, their approach in North Beach was to block off the streets every night so that even the taxis couldn't reach the clubs to pick up customers. Their assumption seems to have been that if you make going to a club feel like walking through a war zone, then the customers will stop coming and the clubs will go out of business. It turns out that this is true, and Sgt. (now Commander) Dudley got a promotion out of this tactic.

Why isn't Mayor Newsom doing or saying anything about this? Now that he's no longer running for Governor, it's about time for him to stop being an absentee landlord and do something about the fact that his wildly out-of-control police department is trying to systematically destroy the city's nightlife and tourism industry. Perhaps you should write him and ask.

This is some serious bullshit, people.

I wonder how often other businesses get ticketed for their customers blocking the sidewalk. For example, Macy's, Whole Foods, Bi-Rite Creamery, the Apple Store, Caltrain, the Westfield Mall, or the Powell cable car turnaround.

In fact, would you like to help out? Send me some videos of "blocked sidewalks" around town in front of "reputable" businesses during the day.

Why don't these places get cited? I'll tell you why: because SFPD does not have an anti-groceries agenda like they have an anti-nightlife agenda, so they enforce their ridiculously-rigid (and incorrect) interpretation of the laws only against those businesses that they are trying to destroy.

33 Responses:

  1. jered says:

    What a crock.

    I'm glad I'm not in your position, or after a few months I'd lose it and show up with a dynamite belt in Bertrand's office, and that just wouldn't do anyone any good.

  2. spoonyfork says:

    Pay the bribe already.

    • jwz says:

      If only it worked that way.

      • pavel_lishin says:

        I hear those zero rupee notes work wonders. Perhaps you can distribute them to your attendees?

      • spoonyfork says:

        Host one or more well advertised fundraisers Friday/Saturday nights for a month for the SFPD and SFFD. It would be real weird on cameras and blogs to have the police harassing fundraisers for their own department. At the end maybe have a press conference and present them with one of those giant goofy checks. Everybody wins, everybody loses.

        • I vote for this. Kill them with kindness. They won't know what to think. Also, take them coffee when they are harassing you.

          • gryazi says:

            The fundraiser-type stuff could work. Coffee and donuts, while fun, seem likely to earn more tickets/accusations of attempted bribery (however ridiculous that is - if it goes to court the magistrate or whoever sits those things may buy the argument that coffee and donuts shouldn't buy use of the "whole" sidewalk).

            A question is, is another branch of the department or government interested in investigating this waste of police resources/taxpayer money? People tend to get interested when money is involved, and it sure looks like a shakedown, even if it's just an attempt to defraud the department itself by earning promotions for writing the most tickets for breathing oxygen.

            Then, if it ever does blow over and things are less charged, maybe you could get a good thing going with a 'coffee and donuts' night or something goofy like that, heal the rift and give the cops the chance to see how much work goes into running an orderly house on your end. Something to demonstrate that both clubs and law enforcement are protecting the glory of American capitalism, and Studio 54 you're not.

      • 205guy says:

        What about campaign contributions?

        The only other thing I can think of is that your block has been chosen for redevelopment.

  3. cattycritic says:

    I sent a letter to Newsom but given how he seems more inclined toward grandstanding and flaking out while getting down with OPP, I'm not sure how much good it will do.

  4. maskwa says:

    Maybe a few cheap webcams reflecting off a service like Ustream?

    It's a relatively cheap way to get eyes on what's going on and the cops can't confiscate any video tape (to be later "lost").

    • jmtd says:

      I was going to suggest similar. Building a catalogue of evidence will be really useful if this escalates much further. If it doesn't, you will at least have proof of your good orderliness.

  5. lafinjack says:

    After rooting around in the police car trunk and pulling out what looked like riot gear, Mannix videotaped our line for a few minutes...

    Do you have security cams out there? Evidence vs. evidence.

  6. Stupid question: have you called the PD to complain? I'm guessing that Officer Bertrand and Cmdr Dudley have the support of there superiors, but it it probably won't get worse? If they're actually writing invalid citations, they might actually get a little yelled at?

  7. davidglasser says:

    Well, come on, it's not like there's any actual crime related to SOMA nightlife that the SFPD could have been spending their time preventing this weekend.

    http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=291461461863

    Oh wait.

    • pfrank says:

      hah, are you sure that wasn't actually the cops picking up some extra gear there? I hear they like to confiscate laptops and other things...

  8. discogravy says:

    if common sense won't make it better -- because they think "if people didn't go out, we wouldn't have to crack heads, after all. let's shut down all the nightlife!" -- perhaps it's time to find a lawyer to make your complaints about this harassment louder?

    • jwz says:

      I guess in your vision of the world, I don't talk to lawyers every fucking day of my life.

      I wish I lived in your world.

  9. gths says:

    That is some bullshit. Talk about California Über Alles.

  10. mc_kingfish says:

    Mr. Mayor just got a long letter from me.

    Also, earlier today I wrote friends at the Guardian. The Chronicle has outright ignored me, but then again, they're also the ones currently championing the KILL THEM ALL, ALL NIGHTCLUBS ARE THE SAME campaign, following the shootings in North Beach (which, as Jamie points out, is the last neighborhood Dudley "cleaned up," --a.k.a. killed all the legitimate businesses and left a hollowed out shell perfectly suited for harboring endless fly-by-night carpetbagger dirtbag "clubs" designed to entertain the criminal element and promote public gunplay. Yeah, that was really good work.

    I mentioned that in my letter to Mr. Newson. That and, "don't let all the good neighbor clubs die on your watch."

    • mysterc says:

      Just as a clarification. The incident at the north beach club actually started at the hotel. The shooters were never actually in suede

  11. owen says:

    A couple of months ago I walked by this place in the Marina on a Saturday night, around 8pm. There was a band playing and the music was BLARING out of there. I could hear it on the other side of (busy, two-lane divided) Lombard street. I remember thinking, "What the fuck, the DNA Lounge gets harassed all the time and this place gets to run an open air rock concert?" On my way back, later in the night, I watched as three or four guys riding Harleys with bandanas over their faces rode them up on the sidewalk in front of the club, revving their engines, before parking at their front door. Some random woman on the street was screaming bloody murder as they rode by.

    No cops in sight!

  12. dasht says:

    If I know my thugs, there will soon be a violent or near-enough violent event that you have to call the cops anyway at DNA arranged by these thugs, outside the law.

  13. heresiarch says:

    i second the idea of building up a harassment case against the SFPD -- document each incident and file a complaint with the police if you can. is there any way to find out in advance if the ticket is a valid citation or not?

    as a side note, the gestapo would've shot everyone already. just sayin'.

  14. chrisb74 says:

    Good luck - You treatment really has been shit. It strikes me that something like the footpath queuing issue should be easily defined and measurable - if they cared about being reasonable rather than just being painful.

    I took the time to write to the Mayor pushing the tourism line since i'm not from the USA - we'll see if i even get a form response.

    • bluknight says:

      Time to write the mayor down there, again, and the board of supervisors.

      DNA is one of the reasons why I'm continually interested in coming back to San Francisco. Well, that, and 'alternative nightlife' in general. They kill this, I might as well not even come. So much for the $600-$700 I'd be putting into the regional economy in terms of hotel and car rental alone.

  15. placeslost says:

    I haven't seen any of the "Come be a tourist in San Francisco" stuff that the city pushes out, but I live in Austin, TX where they push live music and nightlife as an attraction...and then EVERY chance they get they stab the live music/nightlife industry in the back. The city grants permits to build condos next to live music venues, then they are on the side of the Condo-dwellers when they complain about the noise...it's ridiculous.

    I hope the situation with DNA gets worked out in your favor, but it sounds like it's going to be a long fight and the one with the most stamina will be the victor...which is bullshit.

  16. fantasygoat says:

    If only Officer Bertrand was a website you could incite the LazyWeb to DDOS. This real world crap is way more frustrating and difficult to navigate.

    There must be some way to fight dirty. Doing things the right, legal way only seems to cause you endless pain.

  17. I happen to live on the same block as the Rickshaw Stop. Attendance there varies from event to event of course, but I've often had to wade through big crowds just to get to my front door. Sometimes the sidewalk is jammed all the way to the corner, and there's usually a choke point right at the entrance, especially when they have the rickshaw outside on display.

    My apartment happens to be on the other side of the building from where they are, which means I'm spared the brunt of the noise on busy nights, though it also means I can't say for sure how often the cops show up there. In my opinion, it's not often enough. Much of the clientele will park in the lot outside my window, and they always find a way to make a nuisance of themselves when the club lets out. They'll stand around and gossip (loudly -- which sort of defeats the purpose). They'll take drunken cell phone pictures of each other. They'll crank up their car stereos. They'll smoke pot. They'll snort coke. They'll throw bottles around. They'll get into arguments with each other. They'll vandalize randomly selected vehicles. In fact they'll do pretty much everything except the one thing you're supposed to do in a parking lot, which is to just get in their cars and drive away.

    Oh, and they pee. They pee in between cars in the lot. They pee behind the dumpster at the service entrance to the SF Music Conservatory. They pee alone and they pee in groups. Especially the girls. Once I looked out my window and found three girls all peeing together right up against my building. I don't know when public urination became trendy, but I wish to hell it would stop. At least on my block.

    Like I said, I don't really know what kind of attention this place gets from the police now, but they deserve way more of it than the DNA.

  18. crasch says:

    A law enforcement friend writes:

    "Grisly. It is so very hard to rein in problem officers who engage in this kind of behavior.

    A strategy involving attorneys, video cameras (both fixed and videographers), extremely well-trained staff, public relations and last but not least, respectful letters of complaint to all applicable government agencies is vital. Covert cameras are particularly helpful when they capture outrageous behavior in the field. See policeabuse.com for examples."

  19. dasht says:

    It just occurred to me. The officers in question are no doubt reading all of this.

    Will those officers kindly help to restore (or for some us create) our faith in local law enforcement by joining the conversation here? I do not ask them to comment on any particular citation or incident as I am sure there would be a cloud of legal issues around their doing so. Rather, I ask them to speak up simply as the community police and to state, in very general terms, what they perceive to be the main challenges or issues around the area of DNA Lounge. That is, to state to the public clearly and frankly what has drawn their recent stepped up attention to this area. One presumes that such information would help DNA Lounge to be "part of the solution" to any legitimate problem.

    If the officers themselves can not or will not do this, will a suitably authoritative spokesperson for the department please fill in for them?

    If neither the officers or department are willing to comment on this blog will they please instead swiftly organize and hold a community meeting for that area, in order to address the tensions that are now arising, giving due and ample notice of such a meeting to all residents and proprietors in the area in advance?

    Thank you,
    -t

  20. pmb7777 says:

    My $0.02, hand the media a better total-story that will cause the politicians at the top of this pyramid to direct their henchmen elsewhere. Ideally the Big Boss gets to play the hero, but saving The Citizens from a Great Embarrassment will also work.

    You've plenty of drama, but right now it's too easily presented as "Moe the Bartender and his carny patrons vs The Great City of San Francisco". You need to change the plot, and you need to redefine the characters. All the raw material is good. You've got narrative, video, etc. Find a decent film student to help rewrite the script. We truly are living in Max Headroom's world.

    Get more CSI than Cloverfield with the video. Stick a PTZ telephoto video camera and a directional microphone on the roof, and have someone inside ready to document the next siege. Then, bring your story and supporting video & audio to the Oakland or San Jose network news, so they can titter at San Francisico's difficult nightlife law enforcement problems.

    Of course, having to do all of this sucks. But I guess the SFPD is committed to making it worth your time.

    • dasht says:

      That's so right. For extra credit, can you suggest a method for monetizing the effort and expense you propose? I can think of some but I'm not sure they'd work and they seem sketchy in other ways as well.

      Your idea is improved solely by the additional suggestion of offering a carrot as an alternative to that stick. What's your view of a good carrot, here?