The owner and operator of the Union Square venue linked to the fatal shooting of a German tourist occurred last week might be sued by the city for hosting a party in a space that violates fire safety regulations.
The space at 414 Mason Street housed an illegal, overcrowded party of teens last Sunday that spilled outside the venue as a gunfight between two groups resulted in the death of tourist Mechthild SchrÃ¶er.
Owner Joseph Ursino and venue operator Curtis Matthews both face “at a minimum, civil liability for violating the California Fire Code and for unlawful business practices,” stated City Attorney Dennis Herrera in a pre-litigation demand letter.
In a press release sent to media, Herrera said that the tragic event last Sunday has prompted him to “seek full legal redress to affirm public confidence in laws intended to protect the safety of San Francisco’s residents and visitors.” He said, “vigorous enforcement of these laws is additionally essential to guarantee fair treatment to the vast majority of responsible entertainment business operators.”
According to Herrera’s letter, the venue had a 49-person occupancy limit, which was far exceeded by the 200 teens that attended the party. Another 200 were also gathered outside.
City fire marshal, Assistant Chief Barbara Schultheis, said that any event that has an assembly of more than 50 people in a building requires a fire permit to ensure safety. “We would never have issued a permit for that space because it is not designed as an assembly space,” Schultheis said. To follow the code, the venue must have at least two exits, not including the fire exits. She said that fire officials were unaware of the usage of the space, but has issued a notice of violation to Ursino.
This incident has also called for fire code offenses to be reexamined, since a notice of violation is simply an unofficial citation that does not carry a fine. Schultheis said that the fire code is being amended to allow for sanctions for first-time offenses. “They have just been told they can’t do it,” she said. “This really illustrates why we need a hammer in the form of fines or other actions.”
San Francisco police Commander Kitt Crenshaw said the Police Department is also working on improving control for large entertainment events, such as the requiring licenses from promoters and approving fire and security plans.