Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cabaret hearing for Eli's club is inconclusive

The cabaret permit hearing for Eli’s Mile High Club, held August 28th at City Hall, was inconclusive. Various inspections need to be completed, testimony reviewed, and conditions proposed before any permit will be issued.

The twenty or so people in attendance appeared to be divided between Eli’s neighbors and those with some financial interest in the club (owners, employees, contractors, vendors, booking agents), with a few other interested parties thrown in. The half dozen immediate neighbors who attended expressed concerns about noise, parking, blocked driveways, loitering, rowdy behavior, tobacco smoke and misdeeds of prior owners. Sgt. Kyle Thomas of OPD voiced three concerns of the police department: diversion of resources to respond to problems typical of nightclubs, issues of compatible use with a club located in a residential neighborhood, and a concern the club would adversely boost crime statistics in the area (and thereby make Captain Toribio look bad). Supporters of the club pointed to its rich and long history as an entertainment venue and restaurant, the efforts the new owners are making to address residents’ concerns, and the jobs and tax revenue a successful nightclub would generate.

The new club owner, Geoffrey Melville, son of a blues musician, expressed his fervor to host live entertainment and his commitment to accommodate the neighbors to make it happen, while admitting a total lack of experience. Head of security Jason Herley, with some prior experience working at nightclubs back east, described the management’s response to recent incidents involving a blocked driveway, noise complaints and unruly behavior in a nearby park. The club will clear the patio area after 10 pm if it gets noisy, and will station doormen to monitor patrons as they exit. Plans are to have one security guard for every 45 patrons. Soundproofing professional Brian Hood stated that existing soundproofing had been poorly installed and that he would dramatically improve the noise situation, but that it was unrealistic to think that anything could completely block all noise.

Hearing Officer Barbara Killey questioned how club management would judge when the patio noise level was inappropriate or not. She rebuked property owner Mike McDonald for not taking responsibility for excesses allowed by previous club owners, and noted that the property owner was ultimately responsible for noise violations, with a $1,000 per day penalty possible. Mike’s note that he had spent some $80,000 in the past on soundproofing upgrades was brushed aside. Ms. Killey informed the owners that Oakland’s noise ordinance does not allow noise from a business to be heard over 50 feet away in any direction. She questioned the experience and capitalization of the new club owners and expressed doubt that a permit could be granted without a good track record being first established.

What was missing from the process was any sense of responsibility on the part of neighbors for their own welfare. Some houses in the area are over a hundred years old, with single-pane windows and no insulation—barely better than tents at blocking noise. The Hearing Officer stated that Eli’s must upgrade to meet current standards; the fact that it has offered entertainment for decades at that location in its current condition (or worse) is insufficient. But neighbors, apparently, have no responsibility to upgrade their own dwellings if they have problems with noise. Nor does one’s decision to live in a neighborhood in the shadow of a major freeway interchange, next to the BART tracks on a street with AC Transit buses, seem to bring with it any expectation that one should tolerate a high noise level.

It seems unlikely that a permit will be issued – or that the club will survive. A few neighbors are determined to close it down. The City’s attitude, as usual, is that businesses must meet ever higher standards regardless of cost, although City officials routinely wonder aloud why Oakland has little retail, a shrinking business tax base, and one of the nation’s highest percentages of consumer dollars spent in neighboring communities. The winners here may be a few close neighbors who bought property cheaply due to location, and likely will get a boost in value if condos are built on the land instead. The losers, as usual, will be the citizens of Oakland, who will lose an iconic cultural treasure.


zirkus said...

Larry, your divisive stance on Eli's is not only disappointing it's irresponsible for someone who is on the board of WOPAC. It does the current owners of Eli's a great disservice by alienating the neighbors. It would be more productive to try to reach out to all the residents nearby and work out a solution that helps everyone. You might be surprised to find that most of residents are willing to work with Geoff and Jason, but are concerned about the problems that have occurred since Eli's reopening. The only people dead set against Eli's opening have lived two doors down since the building housed an ice cream parlor.

Please do not fault neighbors who chose to live here. There are many seniors that cannot easily move. There are also several children as well. We have a great community and we do not want a bad business operating that will destroy it by forcing people to move. If this was going to be a traditional blues bar, like when Eli's reopened in 2003, there would be less opposition.

Many of the patrons and bar staff are transplants from Silver Lion Buffet. "We lost the Silver Lion but we gained Eli's Mile High Club! "
Please take the time to read the Silver Lion reviews on yelp. This was the bar for getting wasted and behaving badly. Geoff saw Silver Lion's closing as an opportunity. This is what is causing the problems and concerns.

FYI, there is no contruction yard on the 3600 block of MLK. If you want to be called a "journalist" please make an sincere attempt to be objective.

JAMMI Journalist said...

Thanks, zirkus; I was starting to think no-one ever reads this stuff. The tone of your comment brings out better than I ever could the depth of feeling concerning the club's reopening. Thanks for adding the information about the Silver Lion; I don't recall hearing that aspect mentioned before in any of the many e-mails that have been flying around, nor at the permit hearing.

Well, I certainly don't want a business that forces people to move either, but Eli's has been open frequently since 1974 and the neighbors haven't moved as a result as far as I am aware. Is your argument that the new club owners are different that previous club owners, in a negative way that will cause the neighborhood to deteriorate? That also is a new perspective. To date we have heard a lot of invective from neighbors about transgressions of previous owner Sam Marshall, and we also heard Mike McDonald keep emphasizing at the permit hearing his belief that the new owners would be much better. Hmmm. . . what to believe?

Thanks for your encouragement to me for trying to "work out a solution that helps everyone." I have offered several positive suggestions, like using redevelopment funds to better soundproof the club, and to purchase the lot next door for offstreet parking. But, I have gotten zero support from anyone to pursue those suggestions. My take is that the neighbors don't want any solution that might keep the club open.

The lot I suggested for parking, 678 36th Street, is a 21,000 sq ft empty lot currently being used to store trucks and construction equipment, is for sale, and is adjacent to Eli's. If that doesn't meet your definition of "construction yard," well excuuuse me. How about "big empty lot currently used to store heavy equipment?" Is that "sincerely objective" enough for you?

michael smith said...

Jason the club manager and now partial owner has gone through hoops and ladders with the nearby neighbors to try to meet their demands as far as security, crowd control, and noise go. Some of the nearby neighbors have ignored this and taken it upon themselves to report negatively to the city because they want to see the place shutdown for their own selfish reasons. I go here for lunch and dinner quite frequently and it is my opinion that the new guys are doing a great job running the place and the city needs to give the a friggin break for cryin out loud. It's ridiculous that the city wouldn't issue a cabaret license over some winey neighbor. Anyways last time I checked they had started doing sound muffling and upgrades to the structure of the place. Hopefully someone will acknowledge their efforts.