Wiener's dance mix: more DJs mixed with fines for "bad actors"

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DJs could proliferate in San Francisco's bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and plazas under legislation that Sup. Scott Wiener introduced today to include DJs under the city's limited live music permits, but the legislation also includes new enforcement powers to crackdown on underground parties and other unpermitted events.

Limited live music permits – which are far cheaper and easier to obtain than the city's full-blown Place of Entertainment permits ($385 compared to around $2,000 for the POE permits) – were created in 2011 by legislation sponsored by then-Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, allowing amplified performances until a 10pm curfew. But DJs were left out, despite their prevalence in San Francisco, something Wiener is now trying to correct.

“Entertainment and nightlife are an essential part of San Francisco’s cultural and economic vibrancy,” Wiener said today in a press release announcing the proposal. “This legislation fosters live entertainment while also heightening our ability to monitor and regulate bad actors.”

It's that last part that doesn't sit well with everyone, particularly given San Francisco's pervasive culture of throwing underground parties, which are key fundraising tools for grassroots efforts such as Burning Man camps but which are the targets of periodic crackdowns by the SFPD and other agencies. It seems that when it comes to nightlife, we always have to take some medicine whenever City Hall offers a spoonful of sugar.

The legislation would give the Entertainment Commission the authority to levy $100 fines to those involved with unpermitted parties, either in established clubs or underground warehouses, whereas now the commission only has the authority to punish those who have permits for violating them.

“Punishing a DJ playing at a party in which the promoter didn't get the proper permits (perhaps unbeknownst to the DJ), would be unfair and inappropriate, in my opinion,” was how DJ/Promoter Syd Gris from Opel Productions and Opulent Temple reacted to the legislation.

But Entertainment Commission Executive Director Jocelyn Kane told us she doesn't expect to fine an DJs. While she asked Wiener for those enforcement powers, they are simply a way of encouraging promoters and business owners to get permits. “We're not into punishment, we're into compliance,” she said, adding that this is simply seeking authority to do administratively what the SFPD and California Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration can now to criminally and civilly.

Tom Temprano, president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and a DJ/promoter at the popular Hard French parties, told us “where I really want clarification is on the new enforcement powers for the commission,” although he agreed with Kane that the commission generally works cooperatively with the nightlife community, far more than either the SFPD or ABC.

“All in all, it's a really good step in the right direction,” Temprano said of the Wiener legislation. “It seems really positive. As a DJ, allowing DJs to be used for limited live performances is just common sense.”

Kane said the legislation will allow music to flourish in the city, from outdoor plazas to small venues, many of which have used DJs illegally. “We'll be able to legalize that and bring them into the fold,” she said. “There always have been places that use a DJ like a jukebox.”

In addition to the relatively cheap application cost compared to POE permits, limited live music perhaps are quick and easy to obtain and don't necessarily require city inspections paid for by the applicant.

In his press release, Wiener praised the importance of nightlife to the city economy and cited a city study he commissioned last year which found that nightlife has a $4.2 billion impact on San Francisco, employing 48,000 people and furnishing the City with $55 million in tax revenue annually.

“We need to encourage a flourishing nightlife that not only marks San Francisco as a cultural capital, but also creates jobs and brings in revenue for essential City services,” Wiener said. “These amendments are part of that broader strategy.”