Sneaky surveillance

SFPD has been quietly seeking video footage of new bars since losing a public fight over the issue

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GUARDIAN ILLUSTRATION BY EVAN WALDINGER

steve@sfbg.com

After public outrage stopped the San Francisco Police Department from instituting controversial — and unconstitutional, say civil libertarians — new video surveillance requirements in bars and clubs more than two years ago, the department quietly began inserting that same requirement into new liquor licenses, a move met with concern at City Hall last week.

In late 2010, the SFPD proposed a draconian set of new security requirements for drinking establishments in the city, including requirements that they do video surveillance and take an image of all patrons' identification cards and make them available to police upon request, without a warrant or any other controls (see "Going to a club — or boarding an airplane?," 12/7/10).

That proposal ran into a wall of opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, California Music and Culture Association, progressives on the Board of Supervisors, and others, who said such a blanket policy violates privacy protections in the California Constitution. The Entertainment Commission held a hearing on the proposal in April of 2011 and voted unanimously to reject the proposals.

At that point, they seemed to just disappear, but they didn't. Instead, SFPD internally decided at that time to begin asking the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to insert a video surveillance requirement in most new liquor licenses in San Francisco, which escaped public notice until Sup. Scott Wiener raised the issue at the April 2 Board of Supervisors meeting.

"If you have an establishment that perhaps has a track record of bad things happening, that's one thing. But absent that, I don't believe that this is justified," Wiener said as he voted against the requirement in a pair of new liquor licenses. Although Wiener was alone in opposing those applications, Sup. David Campos said he shared Wiener's concern and the pair called an upcoming hearing on the new policy.

Two days later, at the board's Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee meeting, Wiener again raised the issue and sought to have the new requirement removed from a pair of proposed liquor licenses: Cesar's Ballroom on 26th and 3rd streets, the latest project of veteran local club owner Cesar Ascarrunz, and Nosa Ria, a market in Hayes Valley that will import gourmet food and wine from Spain.

"It's the exact opposite of some kind of rowdy bar or nightclub where people are going in and getting drunk and really bad things are happening," Wiener said of Nosa Ria, for which he persuaded fellow Sups. Eric Mar and Norman Yee to vote to remove the video surveillance condition before approving the application.

That condition stated: "The petitioner shall utilize electronic surveillance and recording equipment that is able to view the outside of the premises, including all entrances and exits, and that is actively monitored and recorded. The electronic surveillance shall be utilized during operating hours. Said electronic recording shall be kept at least 30 days and shall be made available to the Department or Police Department upon demand."

Mar said he agreed with Wiener that "a broad discussion of electronic surveillance requirements would be important for this committee," but Mar then voted against removing that condition from the Cesar's Ballroom application, saying, "I think we need surveillance in certain spots on a case-by-case basis, and I think this is an area that needs surveillance."