Panama Joe's got its live entertainment permit with the 8-0 vote of the Long Beach City Council Tuesday night, despite reports by the Long Beach Police and Financial Services departments that the establishment is overtaxing the public safety agency.
Led by Third District Council Member Gary DeLong--who maintains that Belmont Shore's public safety and nuisance complaints to his office have reduced,despite the 31-page staff reports in support of permit denial--Panama Joe's won another year-to-year permit.
There was much debate over what kind of a neighbor Panama Joe's actually is (respectful and responsive? Problematic and dangerous?), City Council members voted with little hesitation to approve the live entertainment permit.
The current and past presidents of the Belmont Shore Residents Assn. urged the Council to take the recommendation of the police force, led by East Division Commander Michael Beckman to deny the permit. The co-owner of Legends sports bar and restaurant, however, said that Second Street's bar owners were working on improvements to ongoing residential complaints.
A designated driver program already proposed by Panama Joe's was required to be mandatory, a condition added by Council Member DeLong; other than that, no further conditions were required of the restaurant-bar.
DeLong said in his closing statements, "If we don't have an entertainment permit, there's no way to enforce these 26 conditions," admitting that "the city needs to do a better job, but so does Panama Joe's."
(Regional ABC Director Vincent Cravens said Tuesday that at least some of the conditions DeLong cited might well be included in the ABC license, but he did not have Panama Joe's file readily available.)
Yet there were no other government recommendations or initiatives put forward to address the rowdiness, public fights and arrrests and neighborhood problems catalogued in the police report.
The state ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) agency must license the sale of alcohol and has geographic limits on licenses based on U.S. Census population but practically speaking, it will only do so if local authorities want it approved. The entertainment permit is city issued.
With budget cuts forcing LBPD to reduce officers and civilian employees to their lowest staffing level in well over a decade, opposing residents have questioned who will enforce the conditions in Panama Joe's entertainment permit.
Residents shared conflicting stories during the public hearing and in e-mails about whether Panama Joe's is a blight or a blessing, and Tuesday night's meeting shared similar qualities to l: the 20 to 30 year olds supported the establishment as a fun, harmless, and responsible way to let loose; the over 40 crowd disapproved of the foul language, lewd advertisements, crowded sidewalks, noise levels and property damage caused by intoxicated patrons spilling over onto their lawns.
Yet, this year's demographic dilemma differed in one significant respect: the residents weren't the only ones opposed to Joe's business model this time.
LBPD uncharacteristically of the entertainment permit based on continued problems of overserving, DUIs and alcohol-related arrests in the neighborhood. A broken window and burglary was traced to Panama Joe's drinkers.
Yet, no police officers made any remarks on the issue Tuesday night, other than to answer DeLong's questions about how many undercover officers had been sent to Panama Joe's in the past two years, and whether any citations had been made.
Police Chief Jim McDonnell revealed that several undercover trips had been made, and there was one citation early in 2010.
Greg Newman, co-owner of Joe's, said during the public hearing, "We're doing a good job, but we could be doing a better job."
He also admitted, seemingly defending himself but actually making a case confirming their tendency to overserve, "It's difficult to peg someone's blood-alcohol level from .08 to .13, and even if they're showing no physical signs, they can still be legally intoxicated."
Both Newmans support anti-drunk driving initiatives to help improve safety, including a taxi service and designated driver program.
Vice Mayor Garcia seconded DeLong's motion to approve the permit, citing the 27 conditions as his reasoning. New Council Member Al Austin said, "there is no clear connection between the entertainment permit and these complaints, and these businesses contributing to the city's tax base are invaluable."
Despite oversaturation of Second St. alcohol licenses, with alcohol-related disturbances primarily caused by the late-night "big 5" including PJ's, because the ABC says they are viable business operations; and the Long Beach City Council similarly showed little hesitation to continue business as usual.
Before the meeting, Ron Newman expressed confidence that the permit would be approved despite police opposition. He said, "If the permit is denied, it won't affect business. We have so many locations, and it might even improve things, like removing the 12:45 serving cutoff. If they [the Council] have looked at the  conditions, they should have no reason not to approve it."