During a recent break in my KGO Radio gig on the “Cooking with Ryan Scott” show, one of our guests, Chris Wanner, approached me. Wanner is the state manager for Sidney Frank Importing Co., Inc., in northern California and Alaska, representing brands such as Jägermeister and Gekkeikan sake. “Whatever happened to the Pet Food Express that was supposed to open on Lombard Street?” he asked. “Politically connected community groups promoting their agendas over what’s best for the neighborhood, that’s what happened,” I told him. “Well, that’s a shame because I live right behind that building and it’s a nightmare,” Wanner said. “Drugs, screaming drunks, homeless encampments … why in the world would they want an empty, dark building causing neighbors grief instead of a well-lit business that’s good for everyone?”
And therein lies the rub. These community groups are usually well connected at City Hall, making it easier to shove stuff through with little to no input from residents. That’s what happened with Pet Food Express in the Marina, and now it’s happening in North Beach, where a few incestuous neighborhood organizations are trying to influence what businesses can and cannot open with their proposed Broadway Alcohol Restricted Use District.
In a letter dated February 5, 2014, to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the San Francisco Planning Commission, and the San Francisco Small Business Commission, Telegraph Hill Dwellers (THD) President Vedica Puri says her group is writing to join the North Beach Business Association, the Broadway Community Benefit District, and Southern Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Association to express support “for the proposed ordinance sponsored by Supervisor Chiu to establish a temporary Alcohol Restricted Use District in the Broadway Neighborhood Commercial District.” Puri says the groups want a two-year “time out” on new Type 48 and 21 liquor licenses along the Broadway corridor, allowing only Type 47 licenses for “bona fide eating places,” which the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control defines as a place where gross sales of food exceeds gross sales of alcohol.
She points to the “drunk, disorderly and aggressive behavior” in what was once a “vibrant and diverse entertainment district.”
Who are they kidding? We’re talking about the original Barbary Coast and, since the 1960s, an area that has been known for strip clubs. In fact, there are nine strip clubs in the two blocks between Montgomery and Columbus on Broadway and Kearny — four serve liquor; all attract gang activity, prostitution, drugs, and guns along with the usual “bridge and tunnel” bachelor parties.
Puri also says that residents avoid the area during evenings and new businesses that would “enhance and revitalize” the corridor are “understandably averse to locating there.” She blames all of this on bars and lounges, but never once mentions the strip clubs. I found that curious, until I discovered that Joe Carouba, co-owner of BSC Management — the company that owns all but one strip club in San Francisco — is the vice president of the Broadway Community Benefit District, to which he has pledged a hefty $200,000. The president of that group, Stephanie Greenburg, is also president of the Southern Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Association and a close confidant and advisor to Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who is sponsoring the liquor moratorium legislation.
All of this is creating problems for Jordan Angle, whose 88-year-old grandmother, Alyce Craft, owns a building at 493 Broadway, where he would like to open a high-end lounge and restaurant. “I have a great business partner and we’re willing to invest $2.5 million in renovations,” Angle told me. “Our GM worked at Bix and The Matrix Fillmore. I want to cater to locals and to people who work in the Financial District; the people who stop in at places like the Comstock Saloon on their way home — I want to bring them to the area, which will help with revitalization.”
Angle’s lounge will serve a full menu, but he fears the restrictive nature of the 47 License could be the difference between success and failure for his large space.
“We think food is a reason to get people to come to the area and stay, but we also need to be able to host corporate events to make enough money to survive,” he said. He also pointed out that “bona fide eating places” don’t have a great track record in the area. “What family wants to bring their kids to dine in the middle of nine strip clubs? Enrico’s filed for bankruptcy three or four times; the guys from Naked Lunch are great restaurateurs, but they opened Txoko there and it closed, too. Impala failed. Andrew Jaeger’s House of Seafood, who went into the Condor and offered free live jazz seven nights a week, failed. The list goes on and on.”
Perhaps the most frustrating part for Angle has been the politics. “I have 200 letters of support and they have 37 protests, 34 of them on a form letter produced by Stephanie Greenburg. My attorney and I met with David Chiu to see if he could help us, and he said ‘If Stephanie says yes, I’ll say yes.’ So I sat down with Stephanie and David Chiu’s legislative aide Catherine Rauschuber and told them what he said. Stephanie said if Nancy Shanahan said yes, she would say yes. And, of course, Nancy said absolutely not.”
Shanahan is the wife of former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, and residents and businesses in North Beach have complained for years about the couple’s influence over THD’s decision making. “Peskin told me that if I got a meeting together with all the players he would act as mediator,” Angle said, “but I’ve emailed him multiple times and he hasn’t responded.”
Angle is also upset that the very same groups that want the moratorium eagerly supported a Type 48 license for Future Bars to open another Bourbon & Branch in the old Jazz at Pearl’s space on Columbus Avenue, which had a 47 license. It’s right next door to the new rendition of Tosca Café, which they also welcomed with open arms, and a few steps from four more bars. “They’re also in full support of Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield from Tosca opening another bar with a 48 license in the old Lusty Lady strip club,” Angle said, “which just so happens to be owned by Roger Forbes, co-owner of BSC Management with Joe Carouba.”
It’s no surprise that one of the other big players in the Broadway Corridor drama is Kathleen Dooley — another confidant and advisor to Chiu who is a member of the Small Business Commission, served two terms on the Board of Directors of THD, is the past president of the North Beach Merchants Association, and the current president of the North Beach Business Association. “I got a letter of support from the North Beach Business Association until Dooley became president, and then I got rejected. I don’t understand how someone who is the president of a business association and a small business commissioner is opposed to business,” Angle said. Dooley was instrumental in keeping Pet Food Express off of Lombard Street, and so we come full circle in the twisted world of neighborhood groups and City Hall.