LONG BEACH — A yearlong effort by Councilman Warren Harwood and homeowner groups to prohibit or restrict entertainment at a North Long Beach gay bar ended in defeat Tuesday when the City Council voted 6 to 3 to allow dancing at Club Sylvia until 2 a.m. seven nights a week.
The council, which had allowed entertainment only on weekends and holidays until midnight, lifted those restrictions with its fifth vote on the issue since last July.
Several council members said bar owners, who bought the club last spring, have a good record and were being treated unfairly. No other bar in Long Beach has such restricted hours, argued James H. Ackerman, attorney for the club.
"They're innocent, yet they're being punished," Councilman Wallace Edgerton said. "I think it's time to treat them equally."
Harwood Recall Threatened
After the meeting, in a move that highlighted the ill feeling and political maneuvering that have surrounded the city's unusual handling of the Club Sylvia license, a bar patron and gay activist said he would lead a move to recall Harwood. Rob Chapple, who called Harwood a "homophobic autocrat," said the Club Sylvia license never would have been an issue if its clientele were not predominantly homosexual.
Ralph Howe, who last month narrowly missed sending Harwood into a runoff for the District 9 council seat, also criticized Harwood at the council meeting. Howe, who received a $2,500 campaign loan from bar owners Robert and Sylvia Oliver, said he could not understand why Harwood "would have such a personal vendetta against these people."
Harwood and others who oppose the Club Sylvia license have "built a hate thing" with the issue, Howe said.
Harwood maintained that noise, not gay patrons, has always been his concern.
"The only issue is whether 2 a.m. seven nights a week is tolerable. I say it's not, and the people say it's not," Harwood told the council. He was armed with letters from residents and homeowner groups and about 200 petition signatures from constituents who oppose the longer hours.
"Just starting a car at 2 a.m. can wake up a child," the councilman said later. "It doesn't matter who starts it."
Club Sylvia, at the corner of Cherry Avenue and 61st Street, is one of a strip of businesses that front on Cherry. Nearby are many apartments and single-family homes.
In a letter to the council, one resident adjacent to the bar's parking lot said that even with restricted hours she has had to move her bedroom to another part of her apartment to get away from Club Sylvia noise.
Referring to the letter, Harwood said, "The idea that working people trying to make a go of it will be damaged in this basic way is just tragic."
Carol McDonald, who lives two houses away from the club, emphasized noise and parking problems. But she also told the council that she was concerned because bar patrons were not from her neighborhood and were part of "a very special interest group."
"I'm not just totally against gays. I don't want to have all the gays against me," she said in an interview, "but I'm out to protect my own sanity. When I see people dressing in the parking lot and putting on their wigs and clicking their high heels it makes me upset. I don't like this for my children."
Men in Women's Clothing
McDonald said she saw men in women's attire at Club Sylvia on April 30. Chapple said the April 30 party was a benefit for Project Ahead, a nonprofit group that provides assistance to AIDS victims.
McDonald, a nurse with two small children, sparked a heated side debate between Harwood and Edgerton when she said she knew Club Sylvia customers were from other cities because the Police Department had checked patrons' automobile license plates.
Edgerton pressed Harwood to determine whether Harwood had helped McDonald get such police assistance. An angry Harwood insisted that he had not helped McDonald. And, in an interview, Harwood said Edgerton had revived the Club Sylvia license issue to embarrass him. "It's a political harassment technique that's aimed at undermining me," Harwood said.
Allegations of political maneuvering--and anti-gay bias--have accompanied the Club Sylvia applications since last summer.
With only five members in attendance, the council voted unanimously in mid-July to deny the club's new owners an entertainment license, although the bar had an unrestricted license before that.
A week later the council voted 7 to 2 to rehear the issue, and at a Sept. 10 hearing it again denied the bar an entertainment license of any kind. Voting with Harwood's 5-4 majority were Edgerton, Mayor Ernie Kell and council members Edd Tuttle and Eunice Sato. But Sato switched her vote a week later and the club was granted a limited, two-night-a-week entertainment license.
Since then, Club Sylvia patrons have caused little problem for police, a department spokesman said. And the actual 3,000-square-foot building has been improved and lighting added to its parking lot.
Two weeks ago Edgerton, at the request of Ackerman, asked the council to rehear the issue. Citing improvements that Harwood and neighbors also acknowledge, Ackerman said Tuesday, "I don't know what more we can do."
Edgerton said he switched his vote on the license so he could finally vote his conscience. He said he had bowed to the wishes of Mayor Kell last summer when voting with Harwood, "but I felt very bad about it, because I really felt the Olivers should win."
Jan Hall, who joined Harwood and Kell in the minority on Tuesday, also switched her position from last summer, when she voted for an unrestricted license. She said the current license might be too limited but she was "uncomfortable" with allowing dancing until 2 a.m. seven days a week.