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HOSPITALITY—Proposed Ordinance Has Coffeehouses Singing the Blues



Hospitality: Police

Department Pursues

Permit Requirement

At Claire de Lune, a coffeehouse in North Park, the beat of Miles Davis rules on many nights.

“A lot of coffee shops actually do a lot of acoustic acts, but I predominantly do just jazz … acid jazz, world jazz, Dixieland, just all kinds of fun jazz,” said owner Claire Magner.

Live music, poetry readings and speakers have become as important as caffeine for Magner and others in the coffeehouse industry.

However, the scene could be jolted by the San Diego Police Department’s proposed revision to current ordinances.

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Under the proposal, coffeehouses that offer planned music, readings or other events would be among vice squad-regulated businesses that would require a new general entertainment permit.

Scheduled to go before the City Council last week but postponed until October, the permit will be discussed at a public forum and task force meeting Aug. 15.

The draft ordinance is expected to go to the next step, the city’s Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, next month.

If the council passes it in October, it could be in effect within 60 days, said Lauri Davis, a co-compliance officer with the San Diego Police Department.

Some Steamed By Proposal

Some in the local coffeehouse industry are steamed by the prospect of further regulation, but Davis isn’t sure why.

If they are holding events, the businesses should already have a $55 commercial recreational assemblage permit, she said.

The new permit simplifies the process and is a much-needed update for some parts of the current ordinance, Davis said.

Stephen Zolezzi, executive vice president of the county’s Food & Beverage Association, said the proposed permit has many benefits, but he also sees potential problems in the draft’s phrasing.

“We’re optimistic, but we’re also watching very closely to make sure that the spirit of what we’re trying to put forth is actually incorporated into the language of the proposed ordinance,” he said.

By “spirit,” Zolezzi is referring to a less complex permit process that adds different entertainment options for establishments.

However, much of the phrasing in the current draft of the proposed ordinance is general, and opens the possibility for police control on the details of the establishments’ events, such as age and hours of operation, Zolezzi said.

Questions On Some Details

Depending on their past experiences with a particular business, police would be able to add conditions to the license at their discretion, he said. Zolezzi hopes to firm up some of the details at the Aug. 15 meeting.

“The problem here is that even though we’ve got people down there now who are very well intentioned, it could change tomorrow,” he said. “You wind up with somebody who doesn’t have past history and doesn’t like what’s going on someplace, and if the wording is loose enough, they can make it fit whatever they want it to fit.”

An appeal policy would prevent any unnecessary rules placed on a business, if it were to happen, Davis said.

The permit has been in the works for nearly eight years, she said. At the time, a task force was formed to review laws and ordinances related to police-regulated business and possibly develop a new policy.

“Some of these ordinances were really antiquated,” Davis said.

Parts of the commercial assemblage permit were written in 1941 and 1964, and some parts were revised in 1987, she said.

The department thought they needed to update them to modern standards, she said.

In 1996, after the task force did several studies, the City Council approved its recommendations and asked it to write a draft of a new entertainment ordinance.

Simplifies Permitting

According to Davis, the proposed permit simplifies the application process by combining the three components of the ordinance , the cabaret permit, dance permit and commercial assemblage permit.

Under current rules, the dance license is renewed quarterly and the cabaret license is renewed each year. The commercial assemblage permit is ongoing. Since 1996, progress on the new ordinance was often halted by complaints about proper public notice, Davis said.

Because so much time had passed since the first effort began, a new task force began working on the issue in December, Davis said.

The current task force includes local restaurant associations, representatives from Gaslamp Quarter businesses, local promoters, and members of the police department.

After the ordinance was drafted, there were several revisions, Davis said.

She doesn’t expect a lot of opposition Aug. 15.

“When you add up the quarterlies, the proposed fees are less, so it’s one of the situations where it’s going to be less expensive,” Davis said.

Promoted Events Apply

Davis noted that the coffeehouses come under the ordinance if their entertainment is planned and promoted or if tickets are sold.

The proposed ordinance makes an exception for “ambient” or “incidental” entertainment, such as music, she said.

Many of the coffeehouses have crossed that line, and need to be regulated, Davis said.

“What we’re looking at is there has been some instances that some coffeehouses aren’t necessarily fully a coffeehouse any more,” she said. “They have actually gone out and started advertising concerts, have concerts, and people line up on the sidewalk.

“Those are the ones it would be affecting,” she said, referring to the ordinance.

Those events often prompt complaints of noise and other disturbances, Davis said.

Magner, who doesn’t currently have a permit, is working on getting one, she said.

Coffeehouses affected by the new permit range from independent businesses to those of a more corporate nature.

Among the latter is the Borders bookstore in Mission Valley, where community relations coordinator Anne Armstrong hires local acts to perform at the store’s coffeehouse area.

Entertainment is a way for the store to connect with its neighborhood, she said.

“It’s completely important,” Armstrong said. “It’s what makes our store. Our ambiance and our atmosphere is really what people come in to enjoy.”

‘Very Strict’

Borders Group Inc., based in Ann Arbor, Mich., gives its stores a budget for it, she said.

She described the ordinance as “very open-ended, very subjective very strict.”

The permit’s cost would also affect her already-small budget, she said, giving no further detail.

Dan Stringfield, owner of Twiggs Bakery & Coffee House in University Heights, isn’t fazed by the prospect of a permit and regulation.

“I just feel that it’s just another way to get more money out of us,” he said. “I’m really not worried about anything about the ordinance, other than it’s just 300 more bucks out of my pocket.”

Twiggs has a separate 45-person room for events, and regular entertainment Wednesdays through Sundays, including an open-mike night, local singers and songwriters and other bands.

Stringfield, who has owned Twiggs for 3 & #733; years, said entertainment tends to bring in around 30 people each night.

“It’s a mixed bag,” Stringfield said. “There are some groups that bring a crowd that really buy a lot of stuff at the coffeehouse. There are other groups where people end up buying nothing.”

He doubts he’ll be asked to add security or age requirements for the events.

Although he sometimes questions it, Stringfield appreciates the results from hosting entertainment.

“There’s some nights I think it’s just the greatest thing for us to have it, and there’s other nights where I think it’s just a pain in the neck,” he said.

“On the whole, though, I would have to say that it generally brings 30 more people to the coffeehouse, and that’s certainly a positive thing for the business.”

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