On Tuesday night, City Council members passed a measure to approve an entertainment permit for Panama Joe's that would allow dancing by patrons. It would last one year and passed on a 5-2 vote.
Third District Councilman Gary DeLong, who represents Naples and Belmont Shore, said "no doubt there's a problem" with the lives of some Shore residents being disrupted by Second Street bar patrons. He said that he has received many complaints from residents about drunken disturbances, crime and rowdy behavior in their neighborhoods.
"However," DeLong said, "I'm not sure that denying this entertainment permit is the solution, and may in fact cause more of a problem."
He stated that there are five bars on Second Street that are open past midnight that account for most of the ruckus, and though the situation has not become "demonstrably better" in the past five years, there has been some improvement due to the cooperation from these businesses, who have worked with city officials, attended citizen meetings and complied with institutional programs. For example, DeLong said, Panama Joe's has complied with the ordinance that says no new customers will be allowed in after 1 a.m. The new entertainment permit cuts it off even earlier, at 12:45 a.m, and closes the line to get in at 12:30.
This entertainment permit is a One-Year-Short-Term Permit that will expire in one year if no action is taken. In 2010, Panama Joe's held an entertainment permit that did not include dancing, but that had 26 conditions, which included duties such as scheduling trash pickup and monitoring security.
Fabius Rizk, general manager of Panama Joe's, said at the meeting that if the current entertainment permit timed out and another one was not issued, the restaurant would not be held accountable for these other tasks. This is a point that Councilwoman Rae Gabelich said she saw as "threatening."
Gabelich voted against the measure and said, "the ownership needs to set the stage and be responsible to the community they are operating in." She suggested, since there were only essentially two options for the measure -- grant or deny -- that the Council deny it and leave it to Panama Joe's to return later with an amended application.
Five community members spoke in opposition to the measure, saying that just outside their residences they witness the following from bar patrons: profanity, excessive drinking, smoking, noise disturbances, lewd conduct, intimidating behavior and public urination. They argued that allowing Panama Joe's more freedom would only increase the commotion.
Shore residents Kurt and Elizabeth Borsting asked that the Council's public policy conform to community values. Kurt Borsting objected to the promotion of alcohol on Panama Joe's marquee. He also showed Panama Joe's fliers that advertised events such as Bull Riding Night, Human Cockfighting, Guest Bartending, Spin the Wheel Shot Night and the Long Beach Beer Olympics --events that he said were not allowed under the conditions that Panama Joe's had been operating under and were "clear and systematic and intentional violations" of those conditions. (On Thursday, Borsting posted a link to a YouTube video he took of a bull-riding machine about to be unloaded at Panama Joe's -- until, he says, he was observed documenting a possible violation.)
Later, Ron Newman, owner of Panama Joe's, said, "It's not what it sounds like. We have these things just to have some fun. People wear chicken masks and it's a fun promotion. We really can't overserve alcohol because ABC is there undercover all the time, and we have security regularly checking intoxication levels, just like other places."
Shore resident Ron Gardner told the Council that offering a happy hour special of two drinks in hand for the price of one was an example of overserving, when a drink special could just as practically be one drink for half price. He said that he had a petition with over 50 signatures from residents that urged the Council to deny the entertainment permit.
"There's no doubt that overserving of alcohol is happening in Belmont Shore on a regular basis," DeLong said in the meeting, "but singling out one business to reprimand is not the way to tackle the problem."
He said that the state's Alcohol Beverage Control Department is shorthanded, so the city's business relations manager, Eric Sund, should see what the city can do to understand and alleviate this problem.
Robert Stropky, a resident who lives on Granada Avenue brought up the issue of pedestrian congestion. He said that Panama Joe's was "in clear violation" of municipal code 14.04.10, which reads, "No person shall congregate upon or use any street, alley, pier or park in such a manner as to obstruct the free use of all or any part of said street, alley, pier or park." He mentioned instances of not being able to walk on the sidewalk due to packed crowds.
Sund confirmed under that code, Panama Joe's would be in violation and this would be one piece of evidence that could be filed in a case to present to the ABC.
Vincent Cravens, district manager for the ABC, confirmed in a phone interview earlier that in order for a liquor license to be revoked, a pretty hefty case must be presented against the establishment, and a license is only revoked after multiple disciplinary actions are taken.
Major policy violations may include activities such as selling alcohol to a minor, and the accusation must include evidence from witnesses and residents, as well as police involvement. It is very rare, he said, that a license is revoked, and never in 23 years has he seen a license revoked solely because of a resident accusation. However, he said that residents should monitor the situation, report situations to police as often as possible and compile a case for review.
Sund said that exterior advertisements and activities such as the bull-riding and beer pong events are not in violation of ABC code or city code.
DeLong appealed to LBPD Commander Lisa Lopez to increase police monitoring of Second Street bars and report back in 30 to 40 days. He also called for the city manager to look at last year's D.U.I. statistics and trends.
Also at the meeting, Boubouffe Mediterranean Restaurant on Second Street was approved for an application permit to serve alcohol, but with a condition not to offer a happy hour.
The loophole that allows businesses to continue receiving alcohol licenses despite the fact that for a population, was at the last Belmont Shore Resident's Association meeting. He said it is the “public convenience and necessity” clause, or Section 23958.4 of the California Business and Professions Code. This clause allows licenses to be issued "if the applicant shows that public convenience or necessity would be served by the issuance." Cravens said that some examples would be a restaurant serving a certain type of food in an area that doesn't already have it, or if there are more people that enter an area than live in the tract, resulting in greater demand.
Panama Joe's website is linked here.
Video and minutes of the meeting are linked here.