Saturday, August 9, 2008

Eli's Mile High Club re-opens--but will it rock?

Eli’s Mile High Club, 3629 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, which closed May 1st due to a rent dispute between then-club owner Sam Marshall and the property owners, has re-opened under new management. The club is open M-Th 5 pm – 2 am and Fri-Sun from noon to 2 am. The bar boasts cheap drinks on certain nights, as well as a tasty Tillamook cheddarburger and fries.

But will the club offer live music, as it has for much of the past 34 years? The answer will depend upon the City’s response to club owner Geoffrey Melville’s application for a cabaret permit. A hearing on the application will be held on Thursday, August 28th at 3 pm in City Hall Hearing Room 2.

Several neighbors of the club are opposed to the granting of the permit. One neighbor writes, “The last thing we want is loud shows, loud patrons, no parking and all the other BS that comes with this type of venue.” However, this neighbor predicts “If the club is run well, adequately sound proofed and supplied patron parking they would have no complaints from me and most of the neighbors.”

Another neighbor near the club is taping the late-night noise from patrons’ voices, as heard in his bathroom, to demonstrate the noise impact on his privacy. Much of the neighbors’ ire references transgressions of previous club owners, who apparently ignored valid concerns and allegedly violated various city ordinances.

The club has a rich history as the “home of the West Coast blues,” and in the 1980’s was patronized by celebrities who came to hear national blues artists. It is located in the shadow of the MacArthur freeway maze, and is across the street from the BART railroad tracks. Two AC transit lines run on MLK from 6 AM until as late as midnight—it's a noisy location by any reasonable standard.

Club manager Jason is hopeful that the neighbors will choose to work with the club’s management to find satisfactory solutions to their valid concerns. When discussing these issues recently with a local resident, he pointed out thick soundproofing, said to cost $50,000, that had been installed around the stage some years back in an attempt to alleviate the noise problem. It will be augmented, Jason said, by rubber floor mats that may help to absorb the bass. Jason plans to hold a community meeting at the club in advance of the cabaret permit hearing, to air neighbors’ concerns and start a dialogue to address those issues.

A member of the West Oakland Project Area Committee has suggested that redevelopment funds could be used to further soundproof the club, if indeed noise from inside the club is a valid concern and if soundproofing would effectively resolve the noise issue. City staff responded that such improvements might be considered under the Tenant Improvement Program, but at best the City would only pay half the cost. Other ideas that community members have offered are purchase of a large lot adjacent to the club for parking, limiting hours of operation or ages of patrons, and running a shuttle to BART or another parking lot.

If the club closes, it might well result in yet another boarded-up target for copper thieves, returning neither cultural value to the community, nor business tax revenue to the City. It would seem to be in the best interest of the community to find solutions that would make this historic club a community benefit.

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