Polk Street bar ban could be approved soon

City Hall trying to calm raucous nightlife scene
By Joshua Sabatini
S.F. Examiner Staff Writer
After months of debate, the proposed ban on new bars along a popular stretch of Polk Street appears headed for approval.
In October, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced legislation that would block additional bars along Polk Street between O’Farrell and California streets in order to combat rowdy behavior that spills out onto the street. There are currently about 45 alcohol permits for the six blocks.
Residents’ complaints about the nightlife scene have increased as the area has grown in popularity during the past three years.  
The proposal has sparked spirited debate over the severity of the problem and how best to address it. One resident even organized a community meeting posing the question:  “Is Nob Hill a new Las Vegas?”
Today, the board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee is scheduled to hold the first public hearing on the proposal. It is expected to be approved by the committee and then by the full board next week.
Both the Small Business and Planning commissions have come out against the ban, suggesting instead a 100-foot ban from existing bars but allowing additional bars through a special permit process.
“Part of the challenge is places become hot for a while and then they are not hot,” Planning Commissioner Gwyneth Borden said during a March 14 meeting on the proposal. “You look at a Sunday morning for brunch. Some places have a line down the street that disrupts a neighborhood and some places are absolutely vacant. But we wouldn’t create controls to stop people from having long brunch lines.”
Chiu has made changes to the proposal in response to the feedback, eliminating a proposed restriction requiring a special permit for live music and other entertainment. He also backed off a restriction that would have forced new restaurants serving alcohol to close by midnight.
Chiu also has added a sunset clause of five years.
The intent is that by ensuring no new bars can open, The City can work to bring things under control to a level where residents are no longer complaining.
“I want to ensure that Polk Street has a healthy, vibrant and safe nightlife that is respectful of the neighborhood,” Chiu said. He also said he plans to announce today a plan to draft more legislation that would require those serving alcohol to adhere to “good neighbor” policies currently required of entertainment venues, such ensuring patrons are quiet outside through signage and staff oversight.

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