Residents supporting proposed bar ban on Polk Street ask, 'Is Nob Hill a new Las Vegas?'

A proposed ban on new bars along a popular section of Polk Street was rejected by the Small Business Commission, while a community group is calling for even tougher restrictions and asking the question, “Is Nob Hill a new Las Vegas?”

The contrast in positions illustrates the challenge in striking a balance between the Nob Hill residents upset over nightlife disruptions and the bar owners enjoying the flood of business.

The ongoing debate has come to a head with Board of Supervisors President David Chiu’s proposed ban on new bars on Polk Street between O’Farrell and California streets, where there are currently 45 alcohol permits.

“I don’t like the word ‘ban.’ I’ve gone to Lower Polk and it’s going through like a renaissance right now, which is good,” said Stephen Adams, Small Business Commission chairman. “We are seeing more and more people out on the streets going to bars, restaurants and clubs. This area is starting to come back to life after years of not having any life.”

The commission voted last week to recommend using “proximity” controls, such as limiting new bars within 150 feet of existing bars.

But longtime Nob Hill resident Linda Chapman said the legislation needs to be more restrictive to combat the out-of-control, drunken and at times pugnacious party scene.

The current proposal is “perpetuating the status quo. But it’s a status quo that’s only emerged in the last five years,” Chapman said.

In recent days, numerous multicolored fliers have been posted around the neighborhood announcing the Chapman-organized Nob Hill Neighbors community meeting tonight on Chiu’s proposal. They ask: “Is Nob Hill a new Las Vegas?”

“The residents are bitterly complaining about this,” Chapman said.

And it’s not just Polk Street. Chapman also referred to a proposed expansion of use of the Live Nation-operated Masonic Center farther up the hill.

Establishing such specialized alcohol controls is not unusual. There are seven alcohol-restricted special-use districts with varying rules for locations such as the Divisadero Street and Third Street corridors and the Haight, Mission and Excelsior neighborhoods.

Chiu’s legislation is expected to undergo a Planning Commission hearing in mid-March, and it ultimately would require approval by the Board of Supervisors to take effect.

Chiu said he remains open to suggestions.

“We have reached a saturation point,” he said. “We’re all trying to figure out how best to manage the situation.”

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