The city of San Francisco today filed a lawsuit seeking to permanently shut down the Suede nightclub, where a deadly shooting occurred in February and where police say they have responded to many other violent incidents.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera made the announcement this morning outside the club, located at 383 Bay St. near Fisherman’s Wharf. He called the club a “bad apple” and “out of control.”
“Hopefully this is a situation that we will not have to put up with again,” Herrera said.
The club’s owner, Hanson Wong, agreed to a voluntary closure after the Feb. 7 gang-related shooting outside the club, during which 44 shots were fired, one man was killed and four others injured.
The city’s Entertainment Commission last month ordered the club’s permit suspended for 30 days following testimony by police, residents and nearby businesses about several incidents going back months at or near the club.
The complaints included assaults, overcrowding and unruly crowds, inadequate security, excessive noise and alcohol violations.
Herrera said today there have been at least 15 documented incidents related to the club dating back three years “that show a conscious disregard for the health and safety of this neighborhood.”
The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, details “a pattern of nuisance and unlawful conduct by the defiant club operators,” according to the city attorney’s office.
Specific allegations include fights, shootings, stabbings, sidewalks and streets blocked by club patrons, vandalism, drinking after closing time, and marijuana smoking inside the club.
Herrera said club management was repeatedly warned by the city but did not curb the behavior.
Wong, the owner, was not immediately available for comment today.
Attorney Arthur Lipton, who represented Suede before the Entertainment Commission, said this morning he could not comment on the lawsuit because he had not yet been authorized by club ownership to handle the suit.
Police Assistant Chief Kevin Cashman said today that problem clubs are “very, very taxing” on police resources.
According to police, Suede is one of the most problematic in the city, but entertainment commissioners at the March 31 hearing said they were unable under their current rules to permanently revoke the club’s permit for such violations.
“I don’t think it was ever designed for them to be the primary enforcement agency,” Herrera said of the commission.
Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, in whose district Suede sits, has since called for legislation to bolster the commission’s enforcement authority, and also wants examine the role of party promoters in club violence.
“We all strongly support a vibrant nightlife,” Chiu said today.
“It is a part of the fabric of what San Francisco is.”
“But we support a nightlife that is safe,” he said.
Both Chiu and Mayor Gavin Newsom have called for changes to the Entertainment Commission. Newsom has called for the commission to be disbanded, though that would require a ballot measure.
“The city needs to have revocation powers,” Chiu said. He said he supports the creation of a new city panel made up of representatives from various city departments, such as the Planning Department, the police and fire departments, the Small Business Commission, and possibly the Entertainment Commission.
Chiu said it is necessary to “de-politicize” the process, noting that some members of the Entertainment Commission “have direct financial connections to the industry.”
Two entertainment commissioners also attended today’s news conference in support of the closure.
“Club Suede did not act in good conscience when they were running the club,” said commissioner Audrey Joseph.
Commissioner Terrance Allan noted the city’s reliance on tourism and “the belief that when you come here you will enjoy a good time, you will leave safely,” he said. He added that club owners need to be cognizant of increasing violence among youth that frequent clubs.
“Clubs like this that fail to step up and meet that challenge need to be told that this is not the way to meet that future,” Allan said.
As to what might replace Suede should the club be permanently shuttered, Chiu said, “I would support something, but what that means, that’s a real conversation with the neighborhood.”