11 February 2010

The Truth About Coexistence

I am writing this post as an individual and longtime resident of San Francisco's Mission district. Though I am a member of the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Buddhist Center (SFBC), this post in no way represents the opinions or views of the SFBC.

So the story goes. At one time a wealthy businessman ran an illegal open air bar which was popular with a certain crowd and very, very loud late at night, driving lots of neighbors bonkers. Almost a year ago, the Planning Dept served him a Notice of Violation (called an N.O.V. by those in the know), which he appealed. A Board of Appeals hearing last night pondered whether to uphold the N.O.V., which would cause wealthy law breaking dude to have to pay a fine (just like, for example, I have to pay a fine if I park my car on the sidewalk.) Even though the amount of his daily fine would probably be lower than what he ordinarily spends in any given hour, he was given an extension of indefinite length, by a vote of 3-2, to get on the righteous path. By which I mean that the Board gave him time (even though he has already had 5 years!) to make the rooftop bar legal without having to pay fines. So it, and we, will have to come back to the Board of Appeals for a third time at some point in the future, then to the Planning Department.

On the one hand, I appreciate the democratic process, that we have a say in what is going on with the bar. But what kills me is that we have actual facts, and what dude has is buzz words and innuendos. For example, one speaker claimed that 'some people' don't like Carnaval, but Mission people have liked Carnaval for 40 years. Another claimed that sound from the bar should not have to be 'lower than normal'. These are both implied accusations that have nothing to do with anything that we have ever said. Plus, they imply that the bar is a watering hole for Mission yokels rather than a magnet for Bridge and Tunnel, puking, pissing, woo-hooing, Rough Guide San Francisco partiers and Euro Trash. The bar's public comment was like a stuffed peacock, flashy on the outside, hollow on the inside. It had no substance, but caused a lot of affectionate squawking.

Rafael Mandelman and Kendall Goh were the most reasonable people on the Board. Mandelman said, “What is so upsetting to me about this case is the prolonged operation of an establishment that is having impacts on neighbors where those neighbors have no forum in which to have those concerns heard.”

So we bust our asses to let neighbors know what is going on, get 350 signatures on a petition and many beautiful letters of support, draw an impact map with impressive dots on it, create an informational blog, have intelligent, to-the-point speakers at the hearing, etc., and one word from the cronies about 'recession' and a Commissioner/Tennessee Williams' character waxes poetic. He tells us in private that we did a good presentation but what does he say at the meeting? "Not that the noise and discomfort suffered by the Buddhist Center and other neighbors is not important, but if I were to have to make one more important than the other, I would have to make unemployment more important." Right. The choice is not between neighbors being able to sleep at night, and Unemployment. It's about people, even business people who are pals with the mayor, being held responsible for the effect their business has on people who live nearby.

But my main point, really, is that this is a lot of work. Even though it may turn out OK, I have lived in this building for 16 years and am part of a small nonprofit band of volunteers having to work our asses off and spend thousands of dollars because of a murder of PR people, lawyers, fixers, and consultants hired by a wealthy law breaking dude.

More info

This Mission Local article about the hearing explains it better than I do:
The Bar at Medjool Survives to Serve Another Round

The Feb 10 hearing on SFGTV:

The San Francisco Buddhist Center's position on this topic:
Mission Coexistence (blog for neighbors of the rooftop bar)

Rafael Mandelman for Supervisor 2010:

Photo from wxyc.com

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