LONG BEACH — Owners of a North Long Beach gay bar have filed a $500,000 claim against a city councilman, the Police Department and a woman who lives near the bar, alleging that they conspired to hurt the bar's business and have made it a money-losing operation.
The claim, which must be rejected by the city before a lawsuit can be filed, says that 9th District Councilman Warren Harwood and North Long Beach resident Carol McDonald joined with the Police Department to improperly gather and dispense information about patrons of Club Sylvia.
The Police Department identified by name and address some bar patrons by checking the license numbers of automobiles parked at the club, bar owners Robert and Sylvia Oliver say in their claim. Then, according to the claim, the department gave that information to "private citizens," including McDonald, who was a central figure in a yearlong fight to restrict or deny the bar an entertainment license.
"We've lost business with these license plate checks," said Bob Oliver. He and his wife bought Club Sylvia 15 months ago, but, faced with opposition by Harwood and homeowners' groups, were unable to get an unrestricted entertainment license until May 13, on the City Council's fifth vote on the issue.
"Our business has been destroyed," he said. "We couldn't sell it now for 50 cents on the dollar."
Though he did not say so in his one-page claim, James Turner, the Olivers' attorney, said in an interview that it is illegal for the Police Department to check license plates for private parties.
The Police Department and City Atty. John R. Calhoun declined comment on the claim because of pending litigation. Calhoun said, however, that there may be circumstances under which such a check would be legal. The City Council two months ago asked for a full report on the alleged license checks, but Calhoun said he did not think that report had been completed.
McDonald, who first mentioned the license-plate checks at a May 13 City Council hearing, said in an interview Tuesday that a friend on the Long Beach police force had checked the license plates of seven cars parked at Club Sylvia on April 30. She said she asked for the check to show that the bar served gays from throughout the Los Angeles basin and is not a neighborhood bar.
McDonald said that Harwood was not involved in getting the license checks. She said she was not sure whether she had told the councilman about the checks. "But I had told him I planned to say (at the council meeting)that this was not a neighborhood bar, and he'd said, 'Just don't make this a gay issue.' "
'It's Utter Foolishness'
Harwood dismissed the Olivers' claim as evidence that "anybody can file legal charges at will, lacking any proof whatsoever. . . . (It's)just utter foolishness." He said he learned of the license checks at the same time as the rest of the council.
Harwood said he opposed an entertainment license at Club Sylvia because of the effect of noise on nearby homes. The club, at the corner of Cherry Avenue and 61st Street, is part of a strip of businesses that front on Cherry. Nearby are many apartments and single-family homes.
The City Council approved, 6 to 3, in May a full entertainment license that allows dancing seven nights a week until 2 a.m. Several council members said at the time that the Olivers, who also operate a downtown-area bar, had a good record and had been treated unfairly.
Allegations of anti-gay bias have accompanied the Club Sylvia application since July, 1985, when the council voted 5 to 0 to deny the Olivers an entertainment license, although the bar's previous owner had an unrestricted license and affected city departments had recommended a new license for the Olivers. After three more summer hearings, the club in September received a license that allowed dancing until midnight two nights a week.