Victorian bathing suits
A liquor license holder who wants to locate at the former Richmond Beer Garden agreed to ditch lap dances and skimpy outfits in order to avoid the label of a "sexually oriented business."
Dancers will wear bathing suits that do not expose breasts or buttocks and will not engage in any touching or simulation of self-gratification or sexual intercourse, or else owner Luis Penaloza will be in violation of a rule barring a "gentlemen's club" from being 1,000 feet or less from a church.
The pledge emerged at a special meeting Monday where the City Council acted as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Penaloza's request must still be reviewed by the state ABC and if approved, it will be up for a vote by the council at the May 11 meeting.
Council President Bridget Rivers urged support for Penaloza, saying he "deserves a chance" to open his business, although in public comment several neighbors complained of noise until 2 a.m., sex in cars, blocked driveways and condoms, broken beer bottles and crack vials littering their property. Since the go-go club closed a few years ago, the neighborhood has been quiet, residents said.
Sgt Nuno Carvalho, who investigated the application for the Plainfield Police Division, also said police calls were down 50 percent since the club closed. Carvalho met with Penaloza last year and described his initial business plan as "less than stellar," in part because Penaloza wanted to convert a DJ booth to a private space for lap dances. Carvalho described "substantial" criminal activity around the club in the past, including a homicide, but in cross-examination Penaloza's attorney noted two homicides this year in the closed club's vicinity, bringing a laugh from Rivers.
Planning Director Bill Nierstedt also testified on the application, saying he reviewed it for a certificate of occupancy as a tavern, which is a permitted use. But he said the only previous certificate of occupancy on file was in 1971, for a retail store. The applicant later produced a document that Inspections did not have, which was a certificate of occupancy for a first floor bar. Still-outstanding issues included parking, the need for site plan review and the fact that the tavern designation did not allow for live entertainment.
Council members asked how the Richmond Beer Garden operated over decades in violation of laws on the books and Nierstedt said there were illegal uses all over town.
"So it appears that your reasoning is that you are interested in applying the law when you find it," Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said. "For us, we have to look not only what is in the books, but what is practice."
City Solicitor David Minchello conducted the hearing and in summation told the governing body, "Make no mistake, the application before you is for a sexually oriented establishment. Don't be confused about what this is."
Alluding to Sgt. Carvalho's testimony on crime, he said, "I ask that you deny this application."
But Penaloza's lawyer, Andrew Ingram, said, "Do not believe this is a sexually oriented business," and insisted his client would have to follow all the rules or be subject to suspensions, fines and revocation of his license.
"He has no choice but to follow the letter of the law," Ingram said. "Dancers need to be fully dressed. He's going to have to follow that."
In public comment, resident Alex Toliver said, "I don't have no horse in this race. A word has been tossed around here and used negatively. Sex, sex, sex - that's crap."
Toliver said people could see thongs and such at the beach.
"Let's get that sex out of our mind," he said.
Disputing Nierstedt's comment that a vacant lot across the street could not be used for parking and would only hold five cars anyway, Toliver said he has seen three trailers parked on the lot.
"This is a night club, it's been a night club all these years," he said. "Where are these other licenses at? Who owns these licenses? Then shut them down," he said, alleging "kickbacks."
Update: the vote to include renewal of the license on the May 11 agenda was 4-1, with Vera Greaves, Gloria Taylor, Diane Toliver and Bridget Rivers voting "yes" and Tracey Brown voting "no." Cory Storch and Rebecca Williams were absent.
The other item on the agenda, possible charges and penalties against the Latino Heat Bar & Grill, was decided quickly as a downgrade from an initial 70 days' proposed suspension to an agreement between the city and license holder Mahamatie Beni for a 30-day suspension which will require City Council approval at the May 11 meeting. The offense was not disclosed in the hearing, but when Plaintalker asked Beni, her companion said it was just some people drinking after hours. Minchello said Beni can also appeal the suspension and seek just a monetary penalty.
All liquor licenses must be reviewed for annual renewal by June 30, according to ABC law. Although a state formula limits the number of bars and liquor stores by population, most Plainfield licenses are "grandfathered" and not affected by the rule. See a post on last year's liquor license process here.