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Orange County

Court to Rule on Cyber Cafe Regulations

Garden Grove hopes the rules it imposed to stem a rash of crime are allowed. Owners say the restrictions have killed their business.

October 24, 2003|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

An appeals court will determine within 90 days whether to uphold a Superior Court decision to prevent Garden Grove from imposing strict regulations on cyber cafes, which city officials have said attract gangs and violence.

A three-member panel of the state 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana heard arguments Thursday from the city, which says it needs the regulations to curb crime, and business owners, who sued because they say they were unfairly targeted.

The city tried to tighten rules after a rash of attacks at or near the city's 30 or so cyber cafes, which provide computer access to the Internet and video games. Police said during the peak of the violence that about 30% of their calls were from cyber cafes.

The first fatality occurred Dec. 30, 2001, when Phong Ly, 20, was stabbed to death with a screwdriver while waiting outside the now-defunct PC Cafe on Garden Grove Boulevard. The killing prompted city officials to pass an ordinance requiring cyber cafes to log all customers, limit business hours, videotape their premises and store the tapes for 72 hours in case the police needed them.

The owners sued the city and a Superior Court judge ruled in their favor, calling the rules "seriously and fatally flawed," prompting city officials to appeal. The judge left intact the city's authority to set business hours and curfews for minors.

Ron Talmo, an attorney for the business owners, argued Thursday that the city infringes on 1st Amendment rights by enforcing the regulations.

"Cyber cafes are being targeted," he said. "The city has to have specific guidelines [that are applied to all businesses]. There's not justification for them to come down on cyber cafes."

Lois Bobak, an attorney for the city, said the city is "regulating business regulations, not 1st Amendment activities."

Since the rules covering curfew and business hours have been in effect, more than half of the cyber cafes have shut down and violence has dropped nearly that much, police said. Owners said they were forced out of business by the rules and publicity.

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