Jelly's Dance Cafe. Photo: Thomas Hawk
A diverse group of people packed a San Francisco Entertainment Commission meeting at City Hall on Tuesday to show their support for the embattled dance venue Jelly's, which faces closure in the wake of a recent fatal shooting.
About two-dozen members of the public addressed the commission on the venue's behalf, sharing stories of how they fell in love with Jelly's, arguing that the club isn't responsible for the recent violence, and begging commissioners to stop its eviction.
But there might be nothing the commission can do to save Jelly's; it was the Port of San Francisco that recently terminated its lease, giving the owners until Aug. 18 to clear out.
The eviction notice was served after 39-year-old Lee Farley of Richmond was shot once in the chest on July 11 outside the venue, located at 295 Terry A. Francois Blvd.
The Entertainment Commission reviewed the venue's dated entertainment permit on Tuesday and made several recommendations, but the changes wouldn't block the closure.
Fans of Jelly's who showed up at the meeting seemed to need someone to vent to and spoke for nearly an hour, even as commissioners repeatedly reminded them that they have no power to stop the eviction.
The outpouring of support, which was occasionally accompanied by choked-back tears, painted a picture of what Jelly's means to the Bay Area salsa community.
At least three people compared the dance locale, which has live salsa bands on Sundays, to church.
One woman declared emphatically, "It's my Prozac."
Another speaker received a round of applause when he admitted to leaving "work, funerals and family gatherings to go to Jelly's."
But the point many of the speakers made sure to include was, "I have never not felt safe there."
Only one speaker, a resident of the Radiance at Mission Bay housing complex near Jelly's, asked commissioners to boost safety in the area.
"It was really interesting," Jocelyn Kane, the deputy director of the Entertainment Commission, said today. "That was probably only the third time we've ever had an absolutely full room of entertainment supporters. I think that's really valuable."
After many of the speakers alleged that the port had ulterior motives in shuttering the venue, the commission offered the podium for rebuttal from port representatives, but no one came forward.
Port spokeswoman Renee Dunn Martin said before the meeting on Tuesday that port officials feel it is in the public's best interest to close Jelly's.
She said that in addition to a January 2008 fatal shooting that also happened outside the club, Jelly's has received many noise complaints and was operating outside of its lease agreement by functioning as a dance club when the lease was for a full-service restaurant.
G. Whitney Leigh, the attorney representing Jelly's, maintains the establishment is a full-service restaurant.
Some speakers complained that the Entertainment Commission paved the way for the port's eviction notice by suspending Jelly's license for seven days after the shooting. The commission maintained that a "cooling-off period" was necessary after such a violent crime.
Leigh has argued that the venue was unfairly targeted and that police reports that the shooting stemmed from an argument inside the establishment are inaccurate.
However, Lt. Mike Stasko of the Police Department's homicide unit said today that the investigation indicates the shooting was preceded by a disagreement inside Jelly's during a private party there.
Stasko said investigators believe the victim, Farley, exchanged words or eye contact with his killer. He said video footage shows the suspect closely following Farley out of the club just before the shooting.
"It's still our contention that something happened inside," he said.
No arrests have been made in the case.
Even though the commission emphasized it cannot stop the eviction, its members sympathized with the speakers on Tuesday.
"It's culturally relevant and vital for the City to keep a place like that, and to lose it would be really negative," Kane said.