At Sunday's mock funeral for Safari Sam's nightclub, owner Sam Lanni burned a copy of the U.S. Constitution along with a makeshift coffin representing his club saying, "The Constitution obviously has no meaning in Huntington Beach."
On Monday, Lanni put his contention up for a court test by filing suit in U.S. Central District Court, charging that in restricting live entertainment at the club, the city and the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control have violated his constitutional rights.
Live entertainment at Safari Sam's was halted in September after the city denied Lanni's application for a new entertainment permit. The city based the denial on the club's lack of a conditional use permit and restrictions against live entertainment on the club's ABC license.
In the complaint, Lanni's attorney, Gene E. Dorney, is asking for a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction to allow the club to resume live entertainment by preventing enforcement of the ABC restrictions and barring the city from threatening to arrest Lanni or confiscating property if he continues staging live entertainment. A hearing on that request has been set for Dec. 2.
Lanni is also seeking $300,000 in lost revenue and $500,000 in punitive damages.
Representatives for the city and the ABC said Tuesday that they had not seen the complaint and would not comment on the charges.
At an Oct. 20 hearing, the City Council upheld the city administrator's earlier denial of the permit.
But the suit claims that Huntington Beach's downtown plan, which was cited by the council in denying the permit, "violates (Lanni's) First Amendment, equal protection and due process rights in that it substantially restricts First Amendment activity without any adequate justification and . . . it is overbroad."
The suit further alleges that Huntington Beach city officials and ABC officers worked together "in a cooperative and united effort to deny (Lanni) his rights. . . . "
The Police Department granted Lanni a live entertainment permit in January, 1985, but officials later said that decision was "an oversight" and that they had been unaware of the ABC restrictions. (That permit expired in January, 1986.)
Safari Sam's, at 411 Olive Ave. in downtown Huntington Beach, opened as a restaurant in October, 1984. But Lanni said he was unaware of the ABC restrictions until April, 1985, when he began lobbying for the removal of restrictions against live entertainment that were put on the license under a previous owner.
The club had earned a reputation as Orange County's most eclectic and adventurous nightclub for bookings of a wide range of new music, theater and poetry, and it was virtually the only outlet for hundreds of county bands.
In staging a symbolic funeral on Sunday, Lanni said he could no longer afford to keep the doors open without live entertainment. In an affidavit accompanying the complaint, Lanni states that income at the club has dropped from $27,500 per month to $400 per month since entertainment bookings stopped.
"If the court agrees to restore the club to pre-Sept. 6 conditions, I'm certain that Sam will get the shows going again," Dorney said. "If they can revive ('Dallas' ') Bobby Ewing, we can revive Safari Sam's."