Did you hear about the North Beach strip club worker and how a bomb he set off on Broadway led San Francisco investigators and federal agents to two much bigger fish with a huge cache of weapons and explosives?
If you did it’s because you saw it on Bay Area FOX and ABC television stations, or you read it in the San Jose Mercury or the San Diego Tribune. When those outlets ran the story last month, the San Francisco Examiner’s headline touted the near completion of Coit Tower’s mural renovation. The San Francisco Chronicle has been similarly silent. This could be because we have two of the weakest daily newspapers of any large metropolis in America when it comes to local issues, or, perhaps — like a lot of people — they prefer not to tick off the Telegraph Hill Dwellers (THD).
Why, you may ask, would a group that touts itself as the watchdog of North Beach want a bombing in the neighborhood linked to a major federal bust to stay under wraps? Well, as I mentioned in last month’s Reynolds Rap, Joe Carouba, co-owner of BSC Management, which controls all the strip clubs in North Beach, has pledged $200,000 to its pet project, the Top of Broadway Community Benefit District (TBCBD), where he also serves as vice president. The president of TBCBD, Stephanie Greenburg, is also president of the Southern Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Association (SoTel), which is, of course, closely affiliated with THD. I would say that gives them at least 200,000 reasons to deflect attention away from trouble at the strip clubs. Carouba is, in fact, a well-known philanthropist in North Beach, donating generously to causes THD and its supporters care about. Is his philanthropy a good thing for the neighborhood? Yes. Can it also buy him cooperation from those powerful neighborhood groups? If you think it can’t, I have a market-rate condo on Telegraph Hill to sell you.
I don’t have a problem with strip clubs per se, but I do have a problem with hypocrisy, which seems to rear its ugly head whenever the topic of politically connected community organizations comes up. While the THD, SoTel, the TBCBD, and their close ally, Board of Supervisors President and District 3 representative David Chiu, press on with a liquor moratorium for new businesses along the Broadway corridor, not one of them has suggested stronger city regulation and oversight of the strip clubs, such as permitting through the Entertainment Commission, as a possible solution to the mayhem that occurs there — despite ample evidence that a preponderance of the incidents involve those establishments. And that brings us back to the bombing.
On the night of Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, security video captured a man placing an explosive device in the doorway of Broadway Studios at 435 Broadway Street. The man was later identified as Ryan Schultz, an employee of Centerfolds strip club. Schultz’s arrest led San Francisco investigators and the FBI to Sean Gunther, who they say sold Schultz the explosives, which in turn led them to Marc Ormando. Both men were arrested March 6 and authorities confiscated more than 400 pounds of explosive powder, 700 “barrel bombs,” 1,300 pounds of fireworks, nine handguns, and eight rifles. “We believe it could have leveled the house. It could have taken down neighbors’ houses,” Sgt. Rachel Murphy from San Francisco’s Special Investigations Division told ABC7News. In the video, Schultz is seen setting the bomb on a pipe while oblivious people walk by. After Schultz departs, it takes several minutes, likely because of an ignition delay, for the bomb to explode. In a stroke of amazing luck, no one is walking by when it goes off. “When it explodes, there are pieces from the building, possibly from the pipe, that get sent out like shrapnel, and if that hit somebody that could really hurt you,” said Murphy.
Why Schultz singled out Broadway Studios remains a mystery, though it’s no secret, according to some people I spoke with in North Beach, that owners Francesca Valdez and her husband, Karl Pleskot, have been vocal opponents of the assessment TBCBD charges Broadway Corridor landlords, as well as open critics of the strip clubs and the negative impact they have on the area. Even Carouba himself doesn’t want any new strip clubs — though he certainly wants to keep the nine his company currently runs.
“Going forward, we want to see more diversity on Broadway,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle in August 2013. “We are not looking for more strip clubs or dance clubs, we are really looking for more music venues, restaurants … We want folks to be out there — but we want it to be safe, fun, clean and livable. …”
That’s why Carouba supports the misguided liquor moratorium. Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of more destination dining — except Carouba knows better than anyone that restaurants along the Broadway Corridor usually fail. In 2005, he and veteran New Orleans chef Andrew Jaeger opened Andrew Jaeger’s House of Seafood & Jazz in the former home of the Condor Club, made famous in the 1960s by topless dancer Carol Doda. After two lackluster years, he shut the restaurant down and brought back the Condor.
When I interviewed Rhoda Jaeger, Andrew’s wife, about the closing in 2007, she told me it was hard to get past the strip club stigma. “We were used to flamboyance in New Orleans, and we still did a strong business in that atmosphere,” she explained, “but if you walk outside our restaurant here on a Saturday night, it’s not a place you would want to bring your family.”
Nearly a decade later that remains the case — and legislated cocktail blocking isn’t going to change it.