S.F. club owners warned to improve patrons' safety

Responding to a rash of recent violence near San Francisco nightspots, city law enforcement officials told club owners, security guards and promoters Thursday that they needed to do more to keep patrons safe.

"It won't be allowed to continue," warned Kevin Ryan, the new head of Mayor Gavin Newsom's Office of Criminal Justice, at a special meeting of city and nightclub industry officials at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. "We're here to help you, but we are going to make some changes."

Among them: Police officials said they plan to inspect every nightclub in the city at least once in the next year to make sure they are living up to their responsibilities as holders of state liquor licenses and city entertainment permits. Such inspections are typically done in response to complaints.

The first-of-its-kind, 3-hour meeting was called after two people were killed during the first week of the year outside clubs in the South of Market and Mission Bay neighborhoods. Police say more club visitors are arming themselves.

Some of the more than 100 industry representatives at the meeting acknowledged the problem and said it could keep people from spending their money on partying in San Francisco. But they also said it reflected a larger societal trend in a city where 98 homicides were committed last year, the most since 1995.

They said some clubs, desperate to make money, aren't choosy enough about whom they invite.

They said parking is a critical problem, with burglars preying on club patrons. Parking lot owners, they said, sell out their spaces and then take off, failing to provide security.

The industry representatives talked about strategies to combat violence. Tactics ranged from the simple, such as requiring security guards to dress sharply and make their presence felt, to the expensive, including creating smoking lounges to keep guests from congregating outside.

One key issue was widespread club owner reluctance to call police for help, because of fears that it would draw attention to them and bring consequences. Police Chief Heather Fong said clubs that worked with police to improve their security would not be targeted for enforcement.

The prospect that a police call would backfire is "a clear concern of nightclub owners," said Brit Hahn, the owner of City Nights, Sound Factory and Club NV in the South of Market neighborhood. "But in my mind, it's a myth."


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