Masonic Backtracked

Live Nation San Francisco hit another wall recently in its attempt to overhaul the city’s Nob Hill Masonic Center, thanks to two Superior Court rulings favoring a local neighborhood association that opposes major concerts at the venue.

Judge Ernest Goldsmith ruled the Masonic project hadn’t undergone proper environmental review, according to the San Francisco Examiner, and that a planning department zoning official erred in approving the expansion.

Live Nation has battled the Nob Hill Association, a well-organized and well-heeled group of neighbors, over its plan to turn the Masonic Center into a regular concert venue since 2008 when the promoter lost its lease to the Warfield Theatre, now booked by AEG Live/Goldenvoice.

The Masonic, which seats just fewer than 3,200, was considered a suitable replacement and LN continues to produce concerts there – Charlie Sheen’s “Violent Torpedo of Truth,” for instance – but temporary liquor licenses are issued on a case-by-case basis.

Live Nation’s goals include a permanent liquor license for the facility, which would be upgraded to add about 100 seats, more bars, improved staging area and docks, and what the Examiner calls a “mosh pit” area.

Instead, the company has spent the better part of the last three years attempting to appease Nob Hill Association, with dozens of concessions, agreements, compromises and other offers to mitigate the group’s concerns about traffic, trucks loading in and out, security, noise and other issues.

It appeared Live Nation had the upper hand almost exactly one year ago when the S.F. Board of Supervisors approved its Masonic expansion plan, with exceptions. But, as expected, the neighborhood group sued to have the Superior Court review the process.
Live Nation is reportedly considering appeal. Masonic Center attorney Steven Vettel told the Examiner that the plan could still move forward with a zoning change and further environmental study.

“It means we have to go through more procedure,” Vettel told the Examiner, “I can’t tell you what the future will hold … we are not walking away from the project.”

A spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office told the paper his office is also considering its options and may appeal. But the neighbors aren’t likely to decide they’ve spent enough on the fight. And meanwhile, the local press seems to be watching the struggle with a sense of bemusement.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius pointed to a Nob Hill “unwritten rule” in a piece about the battle: “Don’t mess with motivated rich people.”

And local blog SFist reported on the Nob Hill Association’s objections with the headline, “Nob Hill Denizens Think Concertgoers Are All On Heroin,” following a comment from Nob Hill Association president Bob Varni that “We already have enough people hiding needles in Huntington Park.”