Despite protests of racial discrimination from the black owner and supporters of a Sunset Strip nightclub, the West Hollywood City Council has refused to issue a dance license to the club, preventing it from operating as a private discotheque.
The council's action last week capped a month of controversy over the fate of Glitter, a nightclub in the 9000 block of Sunset Boulevard. Attempts by the club, closed since July, to obtain business licenses prompted acrimonious debates at several hearings and a demonstration at City Hall by club patrons and members of the Hollywood-Beverly Hills chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.
The decision also may have set the stage for the development of legislation affecting nightclubs on other sections of the Sunset Strip. During the same Thursday night session, the council authorized its planning subcommittee to begin discussions with the city's nightclub owners about problems that have occurred when their patrons have parked and congregated on residential streets.
Council members insisted that the Glitter ruling, decided by a 4-0 vote with Councilwoman Valerie Terrigno abstaining, had nothing to do with race, but rather with Johnson's record as owner of the club.
Citing persistent questions about Johnson's financial involvement in the club and the club's past violations of laws administered by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, council members said they had no choice but to deny the dance license.
"The ownership is so murky," said Mayor John Heilman, adding, "I don't think there is anything that would indicate any compliance" with state liquor laws.
The club's owner, Demetrius Johnson, complained that Sheriff's Department officials and residents who live near the club were motivated by racial considerations in asking the council to turn down his request for the dance license.
"I'm guilty of being black," Johnson said. "They (sheriff's officials and neighbors) didn't want black people congregating in the club."
Lester Hirsch, a UCLA physics professor who lives near the club and has led neighbors' attempts to prevent the club from obtaining business and liquor licenses, angrily denied the discrimination complaints.
"Race had nothing to do with it," he said. "Our complaints about nightclubs on the Sunset Strip preceded Glitter. I think the whole racial thing was manufactured on the part of the club's supporters."
Hirsch and several other neighborhood activists who live near Sunset Boulevard complained that Glitter patrons parked and caused disturbances on residential streets. "Cars were always parked near our homes so we couldn't have guests," Hirsch said. "They partied in their cars and got liquored up before they went into the club. They used the sides of our houses as public bathrooms."
Hirsch said residents would support any move by the council to ease congestion in the Sunset Strip area, where nightclub crowds flood the boulevard and, frequently, residential side streets.
"Any mechanism that would allow us to have the reasonable use of our homes would be welcomed," Hirsch said. "The clubs draw a night population that almost triples what is up there (on Sunset) during the day. We have to come up with some way to control the situation."
Siding with the residents, Capt. James I. Cook, commander of the county Sheriff Department's West Hollywood station, recommended that the club's business license be denied. Cook told the council that J. Daniels, the club that preceded Glitter at the Sunset Boulevard location, "failed to live up to the conditions of the (business) license."
According to Cook, J. Daniels violated state liquor laws and failed to provide adequate valet parking--a condition that had been placed on the club's business license. Cook, who said Johnson was at least a part owner of the club, provided the council with a lease application for the premises that Johnson signed in December, 1984. He also said that J. Daniels employees had identified Johnson as the owner to state Alcoholic Beverage Control investigators in May, 1985.
Cook said that Johnson owns at least part of the new firm, D.A.A. Inc., which is trying to obtain business licenses for Glitter and that Johnson's continuing involvement has reflected "a general disregard" for licensing agreements and conditions.
Johnson and his attorney, Geraldine Green, responded that Johnson did not have any financial involvement in the club until July, 1985. Green said he now owns a third of D.A.A. He said he was only the manager of J. Daniels and was not aware of the conditions that had been placed on the club's business license.
"He (Johnson) was operating under the assumption that these conditions did not exist," Green said.
But the council voted to deny the club's dance license. "It all hinges on Mr. Johnson, who has a record that is not likely to show a business that would be well run," said Councilman Alan Viterbi.
The council did approve the club's request for an entertainment license, with Councilwoman Helen Albert voting in opposition, but placed several restrictions on the license: The club will have to be run as a piano bar, it will have to provide free parking spaces for 80 patrons and 15 employees and it will have a maximum capacity of 190 patrons. The council also limited the duration of the license to one year, with a six-month review.
Johnson vowed that he would not only win an extension of the entertainment license, but also would obtain the dance license. Johnson also insisted that he would regain the club's liquor license, which has been temporarily denied and faces a review by the state alcoholic beverage control board. "I'll be back," he said.