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

A city official denied a business license application for one of Downtown Long Beach’s newest establishments, JP23, an entertainment venue that opened on Pine Avenue and Broadway in October.

The owner of the venue also operates a JP23 club in Fullerton and has landed in legal trouble with the Orange County city, and gained media attention after he sued a woman for libel and slander who said she was drugged at the venue and later raped.

The owner, Jacob Poozhikala, could now wind up in a legal battle with Long Beach after the city denied its business license following nine misdemeanor citations and two notices of violations since September. Kevin Riper, Long Beach’s financial management director, said the JP23 had a “history of repeated non-compliance” with the city’s codes and that the business could be considered a public nuisance, according to a letter Riper sent to the business in February.

Some of the trouble stems from a three-day Super Bowl party that the nightclub hosted in February; Long Beach officials said the club did not have an entertainment permit for the event.

Ethan Reimers, a lawyer representing JP23 in its appeal against the city, argues that his client did try to follow all the city’s laws and disputed whether Riper has the legal authority to deny a business license.

In a March 23 letter sent to the city, Reimers laid out a much different sequence of events that alleges the city did not produce JP23’s license and permits in a timely manner, that the business did not receive proper invoices from the city and that the city’s payment portal was defective.

The letter included a $1,398 check for JP23’s business license fee.

“JP23’s applications for the proper permitting and licensure, as well as its extensive good faith efforts to work with the City, cannot be discounted,” Reimers wrote.

Reimers did not respond to a request for comment on the appeal.

JP23, a bar, restaurant and lounge, opened in Long Beach in October after long delays following its initial build-out that started in 2019.

The city granted a temporary conditional business license to JP23 in November, but it says that JP23 moved forward with the planned Super Bowl event that included live music despite not having an entertainment permit.

Riper officially denied the business license application earlier this month. Now the issue is headed to the City Council.

Deputy City Attorney Art Sanchez said the council will likely hear the issue at its April 12 meeting and it could refer it to a special hearing where a hearing officer would issue findings to the council.

The issue could return to the council for a final vote sometime in June, which could decide the fate of JP23’s business license at the city level.

“From the city standpoint, this business was given every opportunity to comply with all the rules and regulations with the city and they didn’t do it,” Sanchez said.

JP23 has faced similar similar issues with its Fullerton location. The Los Angeles Times reported last month that the Fullerton City Council voted to restrict JP23’s live entertainment hours by requiring the venue to close by 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and by 10 p.m. all other days of the week.

The decision by the council was preceded by protests against the Fullerton location over allegations made by several women that they were sexually assaulted after visiting the Fullerton location. JP23 was also accused of continuing with live events before the Fullerton Police Department could fully investigate the entertainment permit request.

In the months leading up to JP23’s opening in Long Beach, Poozhikala sued one of the alleged rape victims for libel and slander, along with the city of Fullerton and its police department over alleged due process violations.

Sanchez said if the council votes to uphold the city’s denial of the business license for JP23 it could have to close, but whether the city would have to take civil action to see that through is not known. The dispute could end up in court, Sanchez said, but he was unclear what that would mean for the JP23’s operations in the interim.

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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.
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