Sunday Commentary: Is Blondies a Political Football in This Discussion?

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Two weeks ago when the council passed the urgency ordinance to put a building moratorium on new bars, the council invited the only current applicant, Blondies, to submit for a potential hardship. During his comments to council, representing Blondies, former Davis Mayor Bill Kopper stated that they would agree to any new regulations that are passed.

City staff is recommending, however, that they deny the exemption application from Blondies. Staff argues, “The application states that a moratorium is not necessary because Blondies has agreed to comply with future regulations. Although Blondies cites an agreement to comply with future regulations, this agreement is provisional.”

The city here is using a legal technical justification to justify a denial. They write, “The conditional agreement proposed by the application reads ‘Blondies New York Pizza Company shall comply at the effective date with future City ordinance or regulations that are applicable to all restaurants with ABC 47 licenses in the City’s Commercial Zone and do not violate State or federal law; provided that all other restaurants with ABC 47 licenses in the CC Zone must comply within a year.’”

Staff then argues that it “does not believe that this conditional offer is sufficient to support an exemption from the moratorium. Staff also does not believe that this conditional offer would assure compliance with any new regulations adopted by the City.”

They continue, “Staff believes that this proposed agreement does not provide the City with the same authority the City would have if Blondies is not permitted to open until the City has determined what new zoning and operational regulations would apply to new nightclub uses and the moratorium is then dissolved.”

If staff wanted to allow Blondies to open and operate as the council and community weighed in on what changes they wanted to see, then it stands to reason that they might have offered alternative language that would have been acceptable. But they didn’t go that route, and instead offered a legalese-encoded blanket denial that is likely to end up with a lawsuit and some sort of settlement down the line.

But they also know that buys them time. Time for the council and community to discuss how things might change. Time for the community to calm down as distance grows between current deliberations and the September 20 tragedy at KetMoRee.

The truth is, Blondies has become a political football here.

Dan Wolk already let his feelings be known in the recent Sacramento Bee article last week. He stated, “We shouldn’t be approving another nightclub without having this community conversation… I have to be honest: I don’t think we should have more of these nightclubs downtown. If we’re going to have nightclubs, it can’t be the status quo. You’ve got to have more security. You’ve got to have more limits.”

It is hard to know where the rest of the council stands on such things. But perhaps if council has the ability and intention to deny another nightclub downtown, perhaps they ought to let Blondies know now, as they are incurring significant costs during this delay as laid out in their hardship application.

It is pretty clear from some of the staff report that the thinking of Dan Wolk and others is guiding the staff recommendation. If they wanted binding assurances that Blondies would comply – my guess is they would get them. Therefore, staff could very well have suggested alternative language as a take it or leave ultimatum, and Blondies most likely would have concurred.

But that was not their intention.

At this point, I think we need to better understand what the end game is. Is it to ban all future nightclub type options in the community? We have already seen the announcement by Sergio Saenz, the owner of Tres Hermanas, who has announced they are stopping their nightclub portions of their operations by the end of October.

Is the end game the end of nightclubs in Davis?

I remain very concerned about the response to this murder. There are a lot of decisions that will be made by older residents without a lot of input from the college students that are just as much part of our core identity as anyone else.

Will banning nightclubs solve the problem? Will it stop the late night downtown scene or just morph it? Will it push would-be partiers into neighboring cities, or will it push them into the neighborhoods where the problems could become more spread out and more difficult to control?

Finally I have seen a lot of mentioning about outsiders as being at the core of the problem – just as they were said to be during Picnic Day. Determining who outsiders are in a college community is difficult.

For all of the talk about the increased presence of gang members in downtown Davis, we have not seen a lot of gang cases from Davis trickle into the courts. The stats provided by the Sacramento Bee do not show a huge and growing trend of violent crime, either in Davis (which has actually seen a marked decline of violent crime over the last decade) or in the downtown (which has seen a decrease in crime over the last few years).

Is limiting or closing down the late night scene a way to stop this alleged increase in downtown violence? Or are we merely treating a symptom without a lot of data to back it up?

In short, I favor community dialogue as a way forward. I think, out of fairness to Blondies, the council should let them know whether they should drop their application altogether or whether this really is a temporary pause.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    David

    In short, I favor community dialogue as a way forward. I think, out of fairness to Blondies, the council should let them know whether they should drop their application altogether or whether this really is a temporary pause.”

    I agree with you that as soon as there is consensus on the City Council  they should let Blondies know what that consensus is. However, I think that you are pulling a little journalistic sleight of hand when you quote Dan Wolk’s statement of his opinion ( as just one member of the council, with a vote of 3 needed) and then extrapolate to what the final decision might be. Just because Dan has already arrived at his conclusion does not mean that the four other members of the council are in agreement. Perhaps they genuinely want to have the community discussion prior to deciding on their vote as I believe is probably the best course of action.

     

    1. Davis Progressive

      tia: david specifically said: “It is hard to know where the rest of the council stands on such things. ”  he then added: “But perhaps if council has the ability and intention to deny another nightclub downtown, perhaps they ought to let Blondies know now, as they are incurring significant costs during this delay as laid out in their hardship application.”  key words “if” they have the ability and intention…  i don’t see a sleight of hand there.

  2. hpierce

    “I think, out of fairness to Blondies, the council should let them know whether they should drop their application altogether or whether this really is a temporary pause.”  And if the Council does so, or makes it permanent, the City should refund every cent of permit/processing fees, and pay for all direct costs for plan preparation, architect and other costs (including rent) incurred to date.  THAT would be “fair”.

    1. Anon

      Here is the question I would want answered before making any decision on whether Blondies should be reimbursed.  Would they be permitted to just make their place a restaurant and bar that closes at normal hours, without the nightclub piece?

      1. zaqzaq

        Little Prague often had overflow into the sidewalk on certain nights when it was open until 2:00 am.  I believe sometimes they had live music.  Blondie’s would not be changing the use history for that piece of property before it closed down.

    2. Tia Will

      hpierce

      Would you extend that to any home builder, renovator, developer …. that incurs costs because their plans as they have drawn them up do not get approved by the city ?

      Let’s say I buy my home with the intent of making certain renovations. I hire an architect and contractor and then find out that I will not be able to proceed with my plans because of a change in city rules. Should I be fully compensated ?  If not, why not ?

  3. Anon

    Therefore, staff could very well have suggested alternative language as a take it or leave ultimatum, and Blondies most likely would have concurred.

    But that was not their intention.”

    The principle here is very straightforward and simple.  Staff’s reasoning is not a “legal technicality”.  A contract is not binding if the exact terms are not specified.  The city cannot put terms in a contract if the City Council hasn’t decided exactly what those terms will be yet.  Black letter law: “An express contract is an actual agreement of the parties, the terms of which are openly uttered or declared at the time of the making it, being stated in distinct and explicit language, either orally or in writing.”
     

    1. Davis Progressive

      i think the point is that if staff were interesting in getting that language, they could have offered it.  otherwise they are simply using the letter of the law to prevent something they don’t want.

  4. Tia Will

    DP, Anon, or anyone more knowledgeable in this area than I :

    i think the point is that if staff were interesting in getting that language, they could have offered it. “

    Is this usual and customary practice. Or is it just something that you think “would be nice to have done” ?

  5. Jim Gray

    To me the issues swirling around about the moratorium on new or expanded nightclubs is not just politics and it is not just “symbolic”. The scene along “G Street” after 10 PM on weekends has become pretty dangerous and an embarrassment for our community.

    What a tragedy. 23- year old Peter Gonzales, who is visiting Davis for his sister’s wedding is stabbed outside a local restaurant that becomes a “night club”.  I feel terrible sorrow for his family! What a shock and horrific way to “Discover Davis.” If you need a reminder go look at the front page of the Sunday Davis Enterprise on September 23rd and see the headlines about the students returning contrasted with the stabbing death.  Promise and a tragic murder side by side on page 1.  We are a better community than this!

    As a community we must do something! Sure there is evil in the world and sure adults should be able to get an alcoholic beverage if they want and if they will act responsibly.  But that is not what is transpiring and that is not what some of the “Bar Merchant’s” are peddling on weekend evenings.

     If the merchants aren’t willing or able to provide adequate security and if they won’t police themselves and make our downtown safe for residents and visitors then the City must act!   There are many restaurant and bars that don’t become dangerous hangouts with numerous police calls . The moratorium as I understand it is a “time-out” to figure out how to take action as a community to provide adequate safeguards. 

     A process is in place to “grant hardships”.  But hopefully we will remain vigilant and resolved not to ignore or exasperate the real problem.  If you want to get a glimpse of the menu being offered by Blondies Pizza in Vacaville. I would encourage you to go check out their Facebook Page.  At Blondies Pizza and Bar Vacaville.

    This is not a Food to Fork Offering … their menu looks like the kind of scene that we are grappling to better police and constrain. This is not about politics this is about what is our vision and our expected offerings in our downtown. I am a firm believer in private property rights and only meddling in the contractual rights of others when potentially the publics health and safety is at risk. A moratorium should be short term and should be clear in why it is being placed in effect.   I think the case has been made in the current situation.

     Hopefully, the City and the existing food/bar owners can come up with solutions to make our downtown safer on late weekend evenings.  Hopefully, we can attract more quality offerings to our downtown.  Hopefully we can get those measures in place during this Moratorium Period.  That isn’t politics. That is public safety.
     

    1. ryankelly

      Jim: I am a firm believer in private property rights and only meddling in the contractual rights of others when potentially the publics health and safety is at risk.

      Mike: I agree 100% with Jim.

      You might want to edit that statement, Mike.

  6. Tia Will

    I am a firm believer in private property rights and only meddling in the contractual rights of others when potentially the publics health and safety is at risk.”

    And here in lies the biggest issue from my point of view. I believe that the public health and safety is at risk.

    Those who participate in these “fun activities” that leave them in a state of incapacitating intoxication , aka early stages of alcohol poisoning, are at risk. They are at risk of accidents ( my daughter’s roommate was so intoxicated in her first year at Cal that she fell down a flight of stairs breaking her leg). They are at risk of vehicular collision. They are at risk of disinhibited unsafe sexual behaviors resulting in STDs and unintended pregnancy. Daily, in my Davis office, I have 17-26 year olds requesting STD screening because they were in their own words ” too drunk to remember what happened” and want to “be safe”.

    As a homeowner near the downtown, I can attest first had that there are individuals who after having closed out one of the local “nightclubs” at two am, are now placing themselves at risk just by staggering down the tracks and down my street.

     

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