City leaders concerned about North Beach image

February 19, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A night out in North Beach ended in tragedy, as a brother had to witness his twin brother's death in a hit and run. It happened in a neighborhood that's now becoming known for violence.

"He was a precious gift to the world and it's not going to be the same without him," the victim's brother, Victor Prieto said.

Prieto spoke proudly of his brother Luis, a student at the Academy of Art University. The 21-year-old twins went to North Beach early this morning for something to eat.

"We got out of the cab and was crossing the street and a car was speeding up and it just happened in three seconds," he said.

Luis was hit by a car at Columbus Avenue and Vallejo Street. The impact of the speeding vehicle knocked him 70 feet away.

The car carried two men and a woman. At least one of them had just fired numerous shots near the Garden of Eden adult club on Broadway.

Nearby officers followed the car to Mason and Lombard. The three were arrested as they jumped out.

It was yet another night of violence in the city's entertainment districts. Last month, a fatal shooting occurred outside the Suede Nightclub near Fisherman's Wharf.

The Pink Diamonds Club and the Heaven Theatre were shut down after shootings and reports of prostitution.

SFPD Chief George Gascon calls it "a huge problem."

"There's no question it's a tremendous drain on resources. we have a large number of officers that are being tied up dealing with these clubs," he said.

Those who live and work in North Beach, even employees of nightclubs, say Broadway becomes a powder keg after dark where troublemakers congregate.

"I don't work at night. We don't work night shifts, walking to your car at night is very dangerous," Sonja Mac said.

Mac and Amanda Rome are showgirls who work at one of the adult clubs.

"The cheaper end clubs, the music the clubs play draw the wrong crowd, a lot of young kids who cause a lot of problems," said Rome.

Dario Zucconi owns a wine bar. He blames outside promoters who rent nightclub space for much of the problems.

"They bring in their own clientele and what happens is we don't have accountability for that," he said.

What happened to Luis Prieto is sad testimony to the growing violence on the strip.

For city leaders, however, the growing number of club-related violence is simply unacceptable. There is now talk of drafting legislation in an effort to make nightlife in San Francisco safer.

"We are looking into, for example, legislation to regulate the party promoter industry which has been responsible in many cases for bringing some of the worst elements to certain clubs that then create these incidents of violence," said San Francisco Board of Supervisors president David Chiu.

Such legislation would affect Shane Whitehead of Surkiss Entertainment, but he welcomes tougher regulation. He says it is the other party promoters who give the industry a bad name.

"If we see somebody coming in intoxicated, they get sent out; they don't even get to come in. We're more worried about setting a long-term vibe with our parties and at our venues, as opposed to making the quick buck," says Whitehead.

It is a standard city leaders can only hope for. Much is at stake -- a city's reputation, known for its entertainment, hangs in the balance.