Lowenthal Alters Request to Cap Entertainment Permits Downtown; Proposal Would Prevent New Nightclubs from Opening Without Kitchens

Following criticism from Downtown business owners and stakeholders, 2nd District Councilmember and mayoral hopeful Suja Lowenthal significantly altered the language of an agenda item that initially set out to put a one year moratorium on entertainment permits throughout the entirety of the Downtown Dining and Entertainment District (DDED).

Early Tuesday morning, Lowenthal sent out a revised version of her proposition, which now calls for a year-long prohibition on the issuing of business licenses to nightclubs and bars that would operate without a kitchen (AB48 licenses), noting mainly that dwindling police resources are unable to adequately patrol these types of establishments.

Two of Downtown’s most infamous examples of these non food-serving nightclubs are Cohiba and Lush, both of which were largely the main targets of residential complaints over a year ago, and both of which are now closed. Lowenthal’s initial agenda item sought to update the 2005 program which inaugurated the DDED by capping the number of entertainment permits at its current level following residential complaints about noise. The blanket move was even supported by the Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (CVB), whose Executive Committee and Board of Directors approved the move in a July 18 meeting.

Lowenthal’s change in language aims to still address the nuisance concerns of her constituents while simultaneously appeasing Downtown stakeholders, who had issues with the original agenda item’s intention to pause the entertainment permitting system while reviews are conducted to consider the future needs of the district.

“With the Promenade and Pine Ave. growing at the rate and success that it has been, there is no way I want to prevent that momentum from continuing to move forward,” said Kraig Kojian, President and CEO of the Downtown Long Beach Associates. “I can work with this new language and I believe this is the kind of step we should take to mitigate between where we are and where we want to be.”

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Many seasoned business owners within the district–which includes Shoreline Village, The Pike, and all business between Ocean Blvd. and 3rd Street from Pacific Ave. to Long Beach Blvd–are still confused by the logic behind both proposals, especially since they were not consulted in the drafting of the proposition. 

“Do you want a village or a downtown?” proposed Cafe Sevilla owner and CEO Eric Van den Haute, who also owns two additional locations in Riverside and San Diego’s vibrant Gaslamp District. “We are the dining and entertainment district–why would you ever restrict either? Were that type of proposition even on the chalkboard, we would have been running for the hills as far opening a business in Downtown Long Beach goes.”

The owner of upcoming Downtown eatery Bo Beau, David Cohn, is also put off by Lowenthal’s desire to drive more retail into the area, which her original proposal said could happen if rents decrease from entertainment-level venue prices to permit retailers to move in.

“Nobody–as of now–is going to go to Downtown Long Beach for retail,” said Cohn, who also owns restaurants in Downtown San Diego. “Look at the Gaslamp [in San Diego]. The City decided to have a clear distinction in that the area would be for dining and entertainment. It is now bustling and retail now feels comfortable coming in. Dining and entertainment bring in people which brings in retail–not vice versa. If people want strict retail, they have malls.”

The altered language makes less emphasis on the retail goals for the area and more on the desire to encourage dining with entertainment as opposed to nightclubs that require more police presence. The study that will take place during the pause period will include input from a Steering Committee made up of Downtown stakeholders, according to an email Lowenthal sent out Tuesday morning. 

“The topics of the study include, but are not limited to, a review of existing entertainment conditions and boundaries, mixed uses inside the District and the impact of bass sound,” it said. 

However, many business owners still feel that the altered language doesn’t ultimately address a larger problem: types of businesses versus business operators.

“The City has been gracious to me with everything from opening to my signage,” said Morgan Margolis, CEO of Knitting Factory Entertainment, owners of The Federal Bar. “But I am a bit miffed at singling out business types rather than specific operators. There are plenty of restaurants that have no idea what they’re doing and plenty of AB48s that operate cleanly and productively. To single out business types while overriding operator issues just doesn’t make sense.”

His sentiment was also echoed by Van den Haute and Cohn, both of whom hinted that a more realistic approach to a district specifically designated for entertaining: conditional use permits (CUP).

The use of CUPs would specify restrictions and allowances depending on what a business was requesting of the City. Rather than blanket-rules that apply to all, conditions are placed on each individual applicant that fit the business and what they wish to do with it.

Margolis noted his two North Hollywood businesses–Bow and Truss and the first Federal Bar–all run under CUPs and, despite being proximally close, they have entirely different conditions because they are two different spaces.

Van den Haute pointed to the total use of CUPs in the Gaslamp District–a formerly rundown area of San Diego that has grown into some 120 restaurants and 10 nightclubs and is the city’s official DED–as something both logical and efficient.

“The Gaslamp runs successfully,” Van den Haute said. “You want to open a business, you go through the CUP process where you express what you want to do and you’re then given avenues to do so. Responsible operators do well and irresponsible ones do not survive… And as far as policing goes, well, would the police rather attempt to control one saturated area of entertainment or have it spread throughout the entire city? Our chief preferred it in one place.”

Cohn and and Van den Haute’s success in the Gaslamp seemed to indicate–directly or indirectly–that the ordinances in place are the tools needed to make sure Downtown remains on a path of growth and success, not necessarily more laws.

“There is this strange belief that if we just add another law, our problems will be fixed when we’re ultimately ignoring the tools we already have in place,” Cohn said. “I wasn’t here when Cohiba was around but it seemed like a bad operator was permitted to operate without people stepping in. Responsible operators need to chime in. City folk need to chime in. If you’re not operating correctly, you don’t operate at all.”

Lowenthal’s office and the CVB did not return multiple requests for comment. Lowenthal will present her altered proposition at tonight’s City Council meeting.

Original proposal is below. The updated one has not been uploaded to the City website. City Council meeting starts at 5PM at City Hall. 

Downtown Dining and Entertainment District Proposal

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