Jul 28, 2014

Walnut Creek Tries to Rein In Nightclub

Update: Business owner Matt DeLima says Vice Ultra Lounge will fight the accusations at a Planning Commission hearing to review the lounge's Conditional Use Permit, including a recommendation to reset closing time to 11 p.m.

Walnut Creek Tries to Rein In Nightclub Walnut Creek Tries to Rein In Nightclub

Update, 6:00 p.m. Thursday, comments from Vice Ultra Lounge owner Matt DeLima.

For the second time in a year, the city is using a Conditional Use Permit hearing to get tough on a downtown nightclub.

The city is trying to rein in the Vice Ultra Lounge at 1251 Arroyo Way. Vice's violations threaten public health and safety, according to a city report for the Planning Commission.

In a telephone interview Thursday, business owner Matt DeLima denied city allegations and said Walnut Creek authorities are trying to force the nightclub to close. "I don't know why they treat a small business owner like this," said DeLima, who a year ago responded with humor (a song parody) to run-ins he had had with Walnut Creek police. More about the DeLima interview is below.

A public hearing and review of Vice's permit, originally on the Planning Commission agenda for Sept. 13, was continued to a Oct. 25 meeting because of a lack of a quorum.

The Vice Lounge has not followed provisions of its use permit from 2009 with changes in hours and atmosphere and service of alcohol after hours, resulting in frequent disturbances in and around the club, including "drunkenness, physical violence, theft, property damage, drugs and weapons," as cited in a detailed Sept. 13 report by the Walnut Creek Community Development Department. See the attached PDF.

Alcohol service was supposed to stop at 1:15 a.m. by terms of the permit, yet "closing time seems to result in some altercations even at 2:30 a.m.," according to the city report by Planning Manager Steve Buckley.

The city's report cites:

  • the lounge contradicting its business plan by catering to "a nightclub atmosphere" rather than "casual dining or entertainment" including later business hours.
  • the publishing of alcohol promotions.
  • "inadequate security."
  • food service being not always available.

Compiling police accounts, the planning report cites:

  • 30 fights since 2009, including several that required a large police response (that number is inaccurate, said DeLima).
  • "19 assaults, including several claims of assault by bouncers."
  • 31 public intoxication reports and arrests.
  • "Numerous auto burglaries, thefts, damage and illegal parking, registration or licenses."

The planning report concludes by recommending hours be limited to 11 p.m. "with the expectation that full compliance will be had with all other existing conditions of business."

Vice owner responds

DeLima said he has hired an attorney and will make his case to the Planning Commission Oct. 25.

He believes the city is trying to force the club to close in preparation for a six-story apartment complex about to break ground across the street. "They want the nightclub out and they're using any excuse they can," he said. "The timing is so obvious.

"We've never been cited one time for serving after hours," DeLima said. "I've got witnesses. I'm so good about the 1:15 (last call for alcohol) thing. We don't have anything. I've got 10 security walking around and taking everyone's drinks."

The police accounts include trumped-up charges and incidents that just didn't happen, DeLima said. Three incidents were listed on nights the club was not open. In two consecutive weekends, there are listings for patrons leaving bleeding from the face — that never happened, DeLima said.

Through the Conditional Use Permit, the city seeks to have the club open and serving food for lunch. But Vice Ultra Lounge doesn't draw a lunch crowd, DeLima said — "If Walnut Creek wants to pay my employees to stand there for five hours, that's on them … California state law says I don't have to with my type of license."
When Vice Ultra has special events, police drive by as many as 50 times in a night, the club owner said. There's a personal vendetta of Walnut Creek authorities against him, he added.with personal lyrics to the tune of Tracy Chapman's Fast Car.

In February, the city imposed Conditional Use Permit changes on Lift Lounge at 1321 Locust St., including moving up the deadline for the latest sale of alcohol from 12:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. By June, a city report noted a reduction in calls for police services in and around Lift "since the City Council took action to modify the operating standards."

In May, the City Council approved a 39-page "nuisance-based" ordinance for alcohol establishments intended to provide clarity and consistency in permitting for downtown bars and restaurants.

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