Fate of JP23 nightclub in Downtown Long Beach goes to hearing officer

An independent hearing officer will now decide whether a Downtown Long Beach bar can continue operating after the City Council voted Tuesday night to refer a dispute over business and entertainment permits between the city and JP23 to a neutral party.

The restaurant and nightclub opened its Long Beach location at the corner of Broadway and Pine Avenue in October after an expensive buildout that was prolonged by the pandemic.

However, the city contends that the venue never obtained a proper business license or entertainment permit to host live music and racked up a number of citations and misdemeanors over the past six months. The bar’s legal representative said that the city has not given the business an adequate opportunity to acquire those permits.

The final straw appeared to be a three-day event held by the business over Super Bowl weekend, where the city said three concerts were held while the business still hadn’t acquired a permit to host such events. The city issued a notice that the business license was denied in February.

Around the same time that JP23 was readying to open in Long Beach, it ran into a host of issues with its Fullerton location leading that City Council to reduce its hours of operation after months of complaints, and multiple allegations that women had been drugged and assaulted after visiting the bar.

A recommendation for the City Council to refer JP23’s appeal to a neutral hearing officer was on the council’s agenda Tuesday night, and supporters and opponents of the bar were in the crowd.

In an unusual move, the council pulled the issue off its consent calendar—a list of issues it typically votes on with a single vote and no discussion—to allow members of the public who showed up to the meeting to speak on the matter.

Stephen Tillet, the executive director of the Orange County-based nonprofit Effort Love Action & Determination (ELAD), said he’s known the bar’s owner, Jacob Poozhikala for a decade and that he’s a difference-maker in the communities where he operates.

“I don’t know what your process is but I do know who this man is and he is exactly the kind of business owner you want in your community,” Tillet said.

Poozhikala told the council that closing the bar would result in over 70 jobs lost in the Downtown area and a personal loss for him from the over $3 million he said he invested into the space before JP23 opened. He asked for his appeal to be heard before the City Council rather than a hearing officer.

Council members were also flooded with hundreds of emails and calls leading up to Tuesday’s meeting asking for the city to deny the bar’s permit.

A handful of women spoke against the bar being allowed to remain open.

Michelle Castillo, who identified herself as a protector of native land in Long Beach, referenced the allegations against Poozhikala’s Fullerton location and said the same could happen in Long Beach.

“Now they’re coming into the land of my ancestors and the same mess that’s happening in Fullerton is going to happen in the city of Long Beach,” Castillo said.

A planned protest outside of city hall was canceled this week with organizers citing Poozhikala’s history of litigation against those who have spoken out against his Fullerton location.

Poozhikala had filed a number of lawsuits in Fullerton over the issues that the location faced, including against the alleged rape victim, who was sued for libel and slander, and a person who emailed a public comment to City Council members referencing the allegation. The city of Fullerton and its police department were also sued, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Times reported in February that the Fullerton City Council voted to reduce the location’s hours of operation after repeated violations witnessed there including exceeding capacity limits and hosting events without an entertainment permit.

Once the hearing officer issues their findings, Poozhikala can choose to appeal again if the officer sides with the city, in which case the issue could return to the City Council. The council could vote to uphold the findings or override it with their own suggestions.

Some members expressed concern Tuesday night that a new business could be forced to close so soon after opening.

“One of the things I pride myself in is uplifting businesses that are existing,” said Councilmember Mary Zendejas, who represents the Downtown area.

New Downtown nightclub JP23 could be forced to close just months after opening

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.