6th Street Tenants Win Big Victory on Club Six

by Paul Hogarth on June 6, 2007

It’s hard to explain to a group of SRO tenants who have put up with a noisy nightclub and are deeply skeptical of government’s ability to help that a result which keeps the club open – despite the owner admitting he broke the law – is a “victory.” Last night’s suspension hearing at the Entertainment Commission ended sooner than expected when Club Six’s attorney, Mark Rennie, admitted during his opening statement that the Club had violated the Noise Ordinance. Because this was the heart of the whole controversy, the Commission immediately moved to the penalty phase and the parties settled.

Club Six agreed to a 30-day suspension, but the Commission voted to put it on probation for the next four months and in the meantime will stay open. But if the Club exceeds the noise level even once during that period, the Commission will hold an expedited hearing and shut it down for 30 days – with the right to try for a second offense (60 days). It was a victory that low-income tenants who worked hard to demand respect for their neighborhood should be proud of. But for many of the tenants who had anxiously awaited a hearing for months and had hoped to see the City enforce the fullest extent of the law, it felt like an anti-climactic bust. And now I need to tell them why they should be thrilled.

I have worked closely with residential hotel tenants since 2000 when I took an organizing job at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. For three years before going to law school, I helped tenants on habitability issues when their slumlords would let the Hotels go with no heat, broken elevators, roaches, and desk clerks who charged visitors $5 a pop. I assisted tenants with going to the Rent Board, the Health Department, the City Attorney and calling the Housing Inspectors. When your client lives in these conditions, it’s not reassuring to hear that getting change through the government is a very slow process. And for a population who’s had it rough, it’s hard to keep faith that these remedies work.

So I understand why some of the tenants left the hearing believing that Angel Cruz – the owner of Club Six – had “won.” Sixth Street tenants put up with a lot in their lives, and it has only been made worse by a loud nightclub that plays music until 4:00 a.m. and brings a large crowd every night. The bass vibrations make tenants at the Lawrence Hotel literally shake in their rooms, and the Club keeps its front doors open in violation of its permit. When addressing these complaints to the owner didn’t work, we helped the tenants go to the Entertainment Commission – and told them that if a club is out of compliance with the Good Neighbor Policy, the City can suspend its license for 30 days.

But it’s rare for the Entertainment Commission to go as far as it did, and it set a powerful precedent for the Good Neighbor Policy on any other nightclub in the City. More importantly, the tenants helped show the community a different face. Sixth Street should not be a nighttime playground for kids who want to go clubbing in the seedy part of town, while the residents too poor to pay the Club’s cover charge end up paying the price. Sixth Street is a residential neighborhood and home to over 1,000 SRO tenants, with 894 units on the first block alone. And many have lived there for decades.

Because the Club stood to lose a fortune by shutting down for thirty days, Angel Cruz spent considerable resources on a “Save Club Six” campaign – with advertisements in major newspapers and flyers on lampposts as far out as the Inner Sunset. He had an impressive turnout of supporters at the hearing, from deejays and concert promoters to youth who testified about how much Club Six enriches their lives. All of this may be true, but that’s irrelevant from the fact that the Club has not been considerate to the residents who live upstairs, next door or across the street.

Some questioned if Sixth Street is a residential neighborhood, and a few made some really offensive statements. “You don’t have shootings in a residential neighborhood,” said Michael Guillory – which means that Bayview, the Tenderloin and the Western Additions are also not residential. In his opening statement, Club Six’s attorney even held up a poster that the Tenderloin Housing Clinic had plastered around Sixth Street and took issue with us calling it a “residential neighborhood.” But it was also empowering to hear their ugly statements. For once, they had to acknowledge that 894 people live on that block and they hung themselves trying to explain why the residents don’t matter.

Now that Club Six has one “strike” on its record, it will have to more seriously engage the community. And if it violates the Noise Ordinance one more time during the next 120 days, the Entertainment Commission will make a Summary Adjudication and suspend its license. While it’s not an immediate gratification for the fed-up tenants, it’s power that they didn’t have before. Sure the Entertainment Commission could have simply voted to shut it down, but then Angel Cruz could have appealed the decision and gotten a stay in court. And who knows what the results would have been then.

We don’t want the Club to be thrown out of business, but we want it to respect the laws and the residential neighborhood. What that means is keeping the noise down so tenants can sleep at night, and truly listening to valid concerns. If the problem persists we may have to go back to the Entertainment Commission, but for now we have a strong precedent that empowers the tenants and forces the Club to take them seriously.

Throughout this controversy, I have been criticized for being an “activist-journalist” who worked too closely with the tenants while also editing this website. That’s okay. Just because I’m an online writer who covers San Francisco doesn’t mean I have to seal myself off from my community involvement. I’m proud of the fact that I don’t let my work at Beyond Chron preclude me from actively participating in local issues. And I get offended when Sixth Street tenants are ignored, demeaned or marginalized.

While it may be hard for many of them to understand right now, SRO tenants who poured their heart and soul into this endeavor should appreciate the impact that they made. While they did not shut down Club Six to teach it a lesson, they forced Angel Cruz to make serious changes in his business so that hotel tenants can have dignity. They stood up for themselves and asserted that Sixth Street is a residential neighborhood.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Beyond Chron is published by the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, who led the campaign on behalf of Sixth Street tenants. Send feedback to paul@beyondchron.org

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