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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Oxnard Activists to Urge Downtown Bar's Closure

Business: Merchants and others say Cloud 9 Hollywood is a source of crime. Owners say problems are being exaggerated.

April 05, 2001|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OXNARD — A push to rid the city's downtown of problem bars will be at the center of a public hearing tonight that is expected to draw dozens of community and business leaders upset with drug use, fighting, public drunkenness and other nuisances.

Cloud 9 Hollywood is the latest target of activists, who will urge the Planning Commission to shut down the facility, which also could face stiff penalties from state alcohol regulators.

The A Street bar's closure would be another victory for community leaders who have successfully battled similar nightclubs. It also mirrors attempts to regulate bars in other Ventura County cities.

Owners of Cloud 9 say they have been unfairly targeted and will fight to remain open.

"I'm angry because this is my livelihood," said Sam Lee, who owns the nightclub with partner Osbaldo Lopez. "We don't serve drinks to minors. I don't control everything. I can only control so much."

But area merchants, who routinely clean up vomit and broken bottles from their doorways, said the club should have been shut down long ago.

"They have absolutely no regard for the other businesses in the area," said Charles Johnson, owner of Johnson's Television. "We never had any trouble before Cloud 9."

Johnson, whose family has owned and operated the television repair and antique store since 1937, said he will present the Planning Commission with a bag filled with broken cocktail glasses from the club "complete with cherries."

City and state officials say Lee and Lopez have not done enough to prevent late-night revelers at the club from taking their partying onto nearby streets.

In a report to be delivered to the commission, Oxnard police officials will present 159 incidents at the club between July 1, 1999, and June 2000 that they say show the seriousness of the problem.

The domestic disturbance calls, shots being fired and teenagers guzzling beer are evidence of an ongoing problem with the club, Police Sgt. Bryan MacDonald said.

In a separate investigation, the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is expected to recommend next month the club be sanctioned for violating the terms of its state license.

The license requires that the quarterly gross sales of alcoholic beverages not exceed food sales. The club recently started serving Chinese food in the front lobby.

Even so, "the likelihood of disciplinary action would be pretty high," said Ed Macias, supervisor of the agency's Santa Barbara office.

"If you are serving Chinese food to a predominantly Hispanic clientele, then you have a problem," Macias said. "I don't know how much Chinese food you will sell."

Macias said the club owners' license could be revoked or suspended.

Community leaders' action against Cloud 9 is the latest in a campaign to rid Oxnard of problem nightspots and bars.

In 1998, community pressure forced the closure of the Pancho Villa Inn, a longtime bar that residents said served alcohol to minors. The previous year, authorities shut down The Launch Pad, considered by many to be the most notorious bar in the county.

Spurred in part by community protests, other cities are also closing problem bars.

Activists from Ventura, Oxnard and Port Hueneme were on hand when state officials shut the doors of the historic Rendezvous Room in Ventura in 1997. The bar was closed after police found a 14-year-old boy so drunk on the sidewalk outside that he was hospitalized.

Cloud 9 Hollywood is interfering with the neighborhood "and the common good of the community," said Hank Lacayo, president of El Concilio del Condado De Ventura, a Latino advocacy group involved in the push against the club.

"We're very concerned about how they are handling their business," Lacayo said. "I have seen the reports myself and where there is smoke, there's fire."

Marc Charney, an attorney for Lee and Lopez, said they will appeal their case to the City Council if the Planning Commission orders them closed.

While there have been problems at the club, Charney said, the number of incidents is much lower than the figures compiled by police. The city is looking for any excuse, whether legitimate or not, to shut down the club, Charney said.

"The report is highly exaggerated," Charney said. "If a policeman goes to the club and finds a person in the club using cocaine in the bathroom, that is a violation. But there is no suggestion the club condones or encourages that type of activity."

Other business owners near the club said its closure would be a victory for downtown.

"They go to the restroom by the front door and in the morning it smells," said Ofelia Camacho, who owns Debbie's Christian Bookstore, two doors away from the club.

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