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SF sex club shut down

by Seth Hemmelgarn
Tuesday Sep 29, 2009
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The owner of a sex club that was forced to shut down last week because of alleged fire hazards said this week that he would try to re-open.

The Power Exchange, which used to be on Otis Street and had just opened at 34 Mason Street over Labor Day weekend, was shut down Friday, September 18.

"There’s a reason why I was open for 13 years" at the Otis Street location, said Mike Powers. "I ran a club that’s safe and a club that’s law-abiding. I don’t ever operate in defiance of the law and we have one of the safest clubs in town, if not the safest, because of the fact that we don’t serve alcohol."

The club says it welcomes all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Powers, who is transgender and ran for mayor in 2007, said that the Power Exchange had closed its old location at 74 Otis Street in November after his landlord and business partner was forced to sell the building due to personal bankruptcy.

Powers said that on Friday night, fire department inspector Lieutenant Mary Tse came to the club with police. He said customers who were undressed were told to put their clothes on and leave the building or they would face arrest. He estimated there were about 30 people in the club at the time. Powers said that he had also been threatened with arrest for keeping the business open.

Problems

Powers said that on July 28 he paid a $270 public assembly permit fee, and at that point fire department staff said that there already was such a permit.

But on Thursday, September 10, he said, fire department inspector Kathy Harold met with his son Joshua Powers and said that no public assembly permit had ever been approved. She said that the department would work with him on getting a conditional use permit, said Mike Powers.

Powers said that instead, Harold showed up with a building inspector on Wednesday, September 16. Inspector Donal Duffy issued Powers an order to cease operations.

Duffy’s notice, a copy of which Powers provided to the Bay Area Reporter, said that pursuant to a September 11 letter from the planning department, the club needed a change of use building permit. Duffy didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.

In documents provided to the B.A.R. by Fire Department spokeswoman Lieutenant Mindy Talmadge, Tse noted on September 11 that some emergency lighting needed repair, there was a basement exit door that needed to open, the address had to be visible from the street, the fire alarm needed one-year servicing, and the fire escape was missing a drop ladder, among other problems.

In his notice a few days later, Duffy told the club to cease operations and file for the change of use permit.

"Failure to comply with this notice shall result in further action by this department," wrote Duffy on the notice, which was dated May 16, apparently by mistake. The fire department records put the notice at September 17.

Powers "started out by doing the right thing," by applying for a public assembly permit, Talmadge told the B.A.R., but she said that when the building department issued its order for the club to cease operations, the fire department couldn’t issue any permits.

Talmadge said that the police department had notified the fire department that the club had still been operating.

Talmadge said the club "had some major safety issues - major."

The fire department documents say that on September 15 Harold met with Joshua Powers and told him that the club could get a conditional use permit for 100 people if all the corrections from a previous inspection had been made except replacing the fire escape ladder, finishing the fire sprinkler permit and obtaining five-year certification, obtaining fire alarm certification, and getting a five-year certification on the stand pipe system.

Talmadge told the B.A.R. that this meant that as long as the Power Exchange called the fire department for a re-inspection and had the immediate corrections completed and were working on the other ones, they could operate conditionally. But Talmadge said the club didn’t call for the re-inspection.

Mike Powers said that’s "bullshit," and that the September 16 visit was for the re-inspection.

Powers said that all the work had been completed except for the ladder. He said that Tse had told him that if he had a work order for the ladder "that was good enough" because the company was so reputable.

He said that when the inspectors came, "they didn’t bother to look at the work at all."

Powers said that he’d continued operating after the order to stop "because there was no sense to it." He said that if someone from the fire department said they’d come by for an inspection and arrange for a conditional use permit, "why would you need to think you shouldn’t be open?"

He said that everything the fire department’s said is a "bald-faced lie."

"They don’t want me to be there as a business," said Powers. "This is the way they’re doing it - saying the building’s unsafe..."

Complaints to police

Tenderloin Police Station Captain Gary Jimenez said that numerous residents have complained about the club mainly based on its reputation.

Jimenez said that there have been some complaints because of noise, and he said that police have made several arrests in the area outside the club of people selling "sexual enhancement type drugs." He said that they’re the types of drugs that police don’t often see in that area and they only started to show up after the Power Exchange opened. The arrests were made during the club’s operating hours, said Jimenez.

Neighbors and residents "don’t feel that this club should be allowed to operate in a residential neighborhood," said Jimenez.

The B.A.R. was not immediately able to obtain copies of the complaints.

Officer Mike Torres, who oversees permitting in the Tenderloin, said that the club has to get a change of use permit through the Department of Building Inspection. Also the Fire Department needs to give the club a public assembly permit. The club also needs permitting from the planning department, Torres said.

As for arrest threats Friday night, Torres said, "I don’t know anything about that. I wasn’t out there."

Powers said that he’ll "absolutely" go after the change of use building permit that he was told he needs to reopen. Powers said that he has an attorney to deal with the "unnecessary closure," and he’s also retained an architect who will research the building and see if there’s an assembly rating for it.

"I’m not done," said Powers.

Sex club owner Mike Powers is fighting the closure of his business. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

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