City Council Could Lift Moratorium On Downtown Entertainment Permits, Finally Define "Nightclub"

What is a nightclub, precisely? That is the question that the City has struggled to answer for the better part of a year and a half. However, at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the council members moved one step closer toward establishing a refined definition of the word, seeking to provide clarity and closure to the topic that has left the Downtown Dining and Entertainment District (DDED) with a moratorium on issuing new entertainment permits since August 2013.

The council agreed to lay over a final vote to next Tuesday’s regular meeting in which they could approve an amendment to the definition of nightclub in the city’s municipal code. If approved, it could pave the way for the repeal of the moratorium on the issuance of AB48 licenses (licenses for nightclubs and bars that operate without a kitchen) which was extended by six months in August 2014. Although the moratorium was placed on the DDED, a passage of an amendment to the municipal code would take affect city-wide.

Under the proposed amendment, a nightclub would be defined as any bar, dance club, cocktail lounge or any similar establishments that have an entertainment license for live amplified music and dancing with the concurrent sale of alcoholic beverages. This definition would apply also apply to bars, taverns and karaoke bars. Businesses fitting this definition would need to acquire a conditional use permit.

Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal said the clarity brought by the amended municipal code would be beneficial to all stakeholders.

“This ordinance will make our application much more predictable for new businesses, more flexible for current operators and more responsive to residents who are looking for enforcement of bad operators,” Lowenthal said.

A moratorium on all entertainment permits within the DDED was initially proposed by Lowenthal in 2013 but was later changed to just block the issuance of type 48 licenses. In the wake of the moratorium, a task force consisting of Downtown residents and business owners was formed to evaluate current policies regarding entertainment licenses and how to tweak them to better serve all people that could be affected by ambient music and other forms of indoor or outdoor amplified entertainment used by businesses. The result, Lowenthal said, is a code that strikes balance between business operators and their neighbors.

“These recommendations do strike a compromise between the business and residential communities,” Lowenthal said. “While most of the dining and entertainment district venues exist in the downtown, I do know that we have many of these establishments throughout the city. So for all the pain that the downtown has gone through, I”m thankful that the entire city will benefit.”

If passed, the three part motion would rescind two prior resolutions passed by the council regarding the prior municipal code and allow the Director of Development Services to submit the amended municipal code to the California Coastal Commission since it would take affect city wide. And for the first time, it would provide a clear definition of what a nightclub is.

“The key recommendation that I think took the longest time was the definition of nightclub,” Lowenthal said. “How do you define nightclub? You have residents who have their own definition of nightclub. You have businesses that have their own and certainly the city attorney and his team had their opinions. But we have come to a consensus and it’s very important to have created that certainty. We’ve operated under an ordinance that didn’t provide as much certainty as it should have and I think that’s what we do today.”


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