Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Theater of the Absurd at Pomona Council

While the Pomona City Council meetings are often portrayed as "theater," last night's meeting spilled over into that weird world of "Theater of the Absurd." And David Allen wasn't even there to witness it. While the agenda was relegated to a single public hearing (along with the normal consent agenda and closed session), it went on all of Monday night and into Tuesday morning (so much for the short meetings).

The topic last night was the Conditional Use Permit for Angelo's Pizzaria (sic) (although logos and signage seem to be a bit schizophrenic as they call it Sports bar, Restaurant, or Bar & Grill depending on whose PowerPoint we were looking at). The issue was that after months and months of Angelo's operating as an entertainment venue, without an entertainment permit, an agreement was made, in October, with the city setting new CUP conditions for the venue. These conditions had time limits for compliance that ranged from immediate to 60 days depending on the item. Three months later, the location was still out of compliance with the agreed to conditions, so the city was considering next steps. Those steps might include revocation of their CUP, essentially shutting them down, or some other form of sanctions, or modification to the conditions of the CUP.

Because revocation was on the table, the hearing was different than normal public hearings before the council. This time lawyers were involved. The city seated a special prosecutor, not the city attorney, and both he and the applicant's attorney could cross-examine "witnesses" who spoke.

First up was Angelo's group who had a large number of "witnesses" who attested to how wonderful Angelo's was and what a great place it was to work or to frequent. With the exception of the facilities entertainment/marketing manager, none of them really addressed the issues of whether or not the location was in compliance with their CUP or why conditions were either reasonable or unreasonable. The marketing manager talked about the unreasonableness of limiting the site (with its full hard liquor license) to those 21 and over after 9:00 pm and the limiting of their hours serving alcohol to 11:00 pm.

Then Jason Aboud, the owner of Angelo's presented his case. He stated that he thought that he should be receiving an award for his work in the city and NOT being chastised for not meeting unreasonable conditions on his business (which he had previously agreed to). He wanted his hours extended and to be able to allow 18-21 year-olds in at all hours. He expressed that he had complied with all the conditions and that someone at the city was "out to get me and close me down."

Now comes the absurdist part. There were two speakers from the general public who put in speaker cards, Virginia Madrigal and myself. Mrs. Madrigal gave an impassioned speech about how the site had changed from a family-style pizza parlor to a "bar" and that they were not complying with the regulations for a bar. That their descriptions of the place as a restaurant was in conflict with their marketing as a sports bar, nightclub, and music/dancing venue. All to the core of whether or not the conditions of the CUP should be enforced and were reasonable.

Then the applicant's attorney asked to cross examine her. He went on the attack asking her what her personal stake was in Angelos. He asked her if she frequently spoke at council meetings, suggesting that this was in some way her entertainment. He went on to attack her as someone who was nosing in on something that didn't concern her.

Given his attack on her, I was not particularly looking forward to my own testimony. However, I forged ahead and spoke directly to the issues of whether the conditions of the CUP had been met. My point was not that the CUP should be revoked or that the conditions were reasonable or unreasonable, but that the perception of the city is that anyone can come, do what they want, and then just fight it and they can get away with it. We've seen it over and over again in our city on a number of issues. Here it is definitely "easier to ask forgiveness than ask permission."

Then it was my turn to face the inquisitor. He questioned why I was, at the late hour of 9:45 taking up the council's time with an issue that did not directly affect me. Didn't I trust my council to be able to make their own decisions? He portrayed me as a gadfly who just likes to get up and talk on issues that don't concern him. THEN, he asked if I had ever been to the People's Republic of North Korea! WHAT???? I refused to answer and stated that I was very offended by the question (However, full disclosure demands that I respond here that I've never been to North Korea, however I have been to the People's Republic of China--my only visit to a communist country). He then asked me a series of questions about what I thought was permissible in a pizza parlor or sports bar.

Now maybe I've watched too much Law and Order but I didn't see where any of his questions related to my testimony or to the issues being decided. This guy went way out of bounds.

After all the testimony and rebuttals (we looked back at 9:45 with longing), the final decision was to restrict the liquor sales to beer and wine and to require all CUP conditions be met prior to the March 1 council meeting (actually by Feb. 23) or staff would bring back a recommendation to revoke the CUP. Mayor Rothman (who seemed to feel that letting them get away with ignoring the CUP conditions would in some way send the message that Pomona was "Business Friendly") and Councilman Atcheley voted against. We finally got out at about 12:20 AM.


meg said...

Thanks so much for the report, John, and thanks even more for stepping up and taking the stand. I had wanted to go, but I had other plans. If I'd known it would go so late, I would have stopped by afterwards.

I'm not opposed to bars and nightclubs downtown, but I *am* opposed to businesses that try to avoid complying with city directives (to say nothing of community standards).

For this, I half expect to get a hailstorm of nasty comments on the blog, if our last Angelo's post is any measure.

I'll buy you a drink next time I see you, Mister Clifford.

John Clifford said...

Thanks, I'll probably need that drink (see, I'm not opposed to bars either).

Again, my point was only that rules need to be followed. I expect that I've let myself open for attacks, especially concerning the spelling of Pizzeria ;-)

A. S. Ashley said...

I said in October that this "problem" was going to come back again, again, and again.

The City can spend all their time pretending the issue will remedy itself...

...but it is destined come back, again.

John Clifford said...

Since Angelo's was certainly not happy with the outcome, and they were represented by an attorney, I'm sure of it. The attorney was obviously preparing for litigation even before the meeting started. So asking why I and Virginia Madrigal were there was to discredit us, not before the council who already knows us, but for a future trial.

Ed said...

So, you visited communist China.............Hmmmmm!

Can I make the suggestion that the city consider having a city attorney on staff?

Any ideas why Atchley and Mayor Photo-op would vote against? Sorry, the business-friendly argument had to be tongue-in-cheek.

Anduhrew said...

McCarthyism Re-deux?

Skrip said...

Great Job Clifford!

I have eaten there once in the evening with the family and we enjoyed it.

I have been there for their 'nightclub' and it was scary. Saw 2 fights, perhaps they should just go to 21 & over. Having 18 year olds who drink before getting in isn't wise. It might not solve the whole problem but I'm sure it'll help a little.

But like I said, the pizza and wings with beer were great! LOL

David Allen said...

John, congratulations on not cracking under the strain of the lawyer's probing questions. I was picturing a Perry Mason scenario.

Did you have to mop your forehead with a handkerchief? Or ask the city clerk for a glass of water?

Pride in Garfield Park said...

What a circus! Whatever the rules are, they need to be enforced evenly. I'm saddened to hear that a presumably reputable business owner would agree to one set of terms and then just ignore that agreement.