After a contentious yearlong battle over whether Long Beach would issue a business license to the owner of a bar in Downtown, the City Council voted Tuesday night to deny JP23 the ability to legally operate in the city.

The bar and restaurant had replaced the long-shuttered Cohiba nightclub at the corner of Broadway and Pine Avenue, but allegations of sexual assault tied to its Fullerton location cast a shadow over its opening in Long Beach last September.

On Tuesday, community members called on the council to shut down the Long beach location in the name of public safety while employees of JP23 argued the license should be issued so they can earn a living. After hearing from both sides, the council voted unanimously, without comment, to deny the permit.

The 6-0 vote likely closes the city process but JP23’s owner, Jacob Poozikhala, has not ruled out a lawsuit to obtain a business license or a civil case to recoup the money he spent trying to open the bar. Two council members (Daryl Supernaw and Stacy Mungo Flanigan) were absent for the vote and Councilmember Cindy Allen recused herself before the hearing at the request of JP23.

The denial of the business license comes after city officials said JP23 opened without proper permitting in September and continually broke city rules by hosting live events while operating under a temporary business license. Long Beach staffers say it never obtained an entertainment permit but allegedly hosted multiple live events over the past year.

According to the city, the establishment racked up eight criminal citations and numerous complaints from neighboring businesses and residents over the past year for loud music and unruly customers, which contributed to city staff’s original decision to deny the business license in March.

That decision was appealed by the bar’s owner, who said highly publicized accusations of rape connected to JP23’s Fullerton location were the real basis for the city trying to drive him out of town. He accused them of manufacturing a case to deny him a permanent business license.

“I wouldn’t have violations if I had a business license,” Poozikhala said. “This was on purpose; this was a setup because of what happened in Fullerton.”

After a neutral hearing officer ruled that JP23 should be granted its license, the city sought a second legal opinion that said the hearing officer’s logic was flawed because he ruled that past violations of city rules should not be considered when granting a new business license.

Christopher Pisano, an attorney with Best Best & Krieger, which recommended the council override the hearing officer, said that the opinion was fundamentally flawed and that the city has a right to use discretion when issuing business licenses.

The decision by the council to block the permit was cheered by community activists who had organized against the Long Beach location’s opening last year. They sent hundreds of letters to City Council members calling for them to vote against issuing the permit.

Other business owners cautioned that the council’s decision to close down an establishment after the owner made major investments could send a bad message to other prospective operators looking to open in the city.

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

City Council to decide whether Downtown venue JP23 should be closed

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.