New S.F. Measure Would Help Keep Mezzanine and Other SoMa Clubs Alive

1 min
Aux 88 perform at Mezzanine on May 5, 2018. (Estefany Gonzalez/KQED)

A new San Francisco measure would protect entertainment venues in the South of Market neighborhood at risk of losing their leases.

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The new legislation, which Supervisor Matt Haney announced Thursday at Mezzanine, the largest female-owned club in the city, would make it harder for landlords to convert these venues into commercial office spaces.

The popular music venue has been in the neighborhood for 15 years, but is slated to lose its lease in October, and will likely be turned into commercial office space.

"I can't tell the owners of this building what they should do and what leases they should sign," Haney, who represents the neighborhood, told a receptive crowd. "But what I can say is, if you want to remove this venue and you want to put offices in here, that you're going to have to go through an added level of process and protections from the city, where we look at this on a case-by-case basis of what's best for the public and community interest."

Haney said his resolution would require property owners of entertainment venues in the SoMa neighborhood to seek approval from the city if they want to change what their properties are used for.

"That means that you've got to go in front of the Planning Commission, and the Planning Commission needs to weigh community benefits, public interest, whether it's right for the neighborhood," he said, adding that decisions could then also be appealed to the full Board of Supervisors.

The resolution is intended as an interim measure to protect venues in the neighborhood facing imminent closure. If passed, it would remain in place for 18 months, at which point longer-term zoning measures could be implemented, Haney said.

"A lot of these nightlife venues don't actually make that much money," he said. "So you're always gonna be able to make more money by renting your offices to a tech company than you are from an independent music venue. And for that reason we as a community have to stand up and say we need some added protections to make sure that we don't wake up one day and look around, and all of these venues are gone,

Mezzanine's owner, Deborah Jackman, said the property owners originally told her they were raising the rent to $60,000 a month, about six times what she currently pays, and now plans to turn it into a commercial office space. She hopes this measure will at least push them to come back to the table.

Mezzanine's owners did not respond to requests for comment for this article. But David Chritton, who co-owns the Jessie Street property, told KQED last November that he hasn't raised the rent in 20 years.

"Basically, they can't afford to be here at this site," he said. "They're not making what this site should be. It's just economics."

Jackman said her club is hardly unique: A handful of iconic entertainment venues throughout the city have recently shut down, including the Elbo Room and Hemlock Tavern. And more, she said, are currently facing the very real risk of losing their leases.

"I think that it's really hard to take a known space and relocate it, "she said. "So if this doesn't work out, unfortunately, Mezzanine will be gone."

This fight is about more than just saving her club, she said.

"It's also the greater picture, and just trying to keep San Francisco relevant and the amazing place that people want to come visit and want to live," she added. "No one's going to come visit San Francisco if it's all office buildings. That's just the bottom line."

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