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May 23-30, 2007

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E3 supporters

Community playground: A wide range of E3 supporters, including grade school musicians, local artists and grooving seniors, told stories of the club's importance to their life at Wednesday's hearing.

The Play Shall Go On!

E3 Playhouse is granted mercy by Santa Cruz Planning Department and given two weeks to modify permit

By Darya Gilani

In 1935, swing music spread like wildfire through clubs across the country, and Santa Cruz Chief of Police Paul Jones was going around the Cocoanut Grove demonstrating legal dance moves to the audience. Certain dances were cause for arrest, and punishable by a $100 fine and 30 days in jail.

Now in 2007, on a bright May morning, employees, patrons and fans of a local entertainment spot march down Pacific Avenue toward Santa Cruz City Hall to the beat of a plastic barrel drum and a saxophone interpretation of "When the Saints Go Marching In."

These two events are on separate ends of a long string of debates on government regulation of dancing. Featured in the latest installment is E3 Playhouse owner Wes Anthony, whose Administrative Use Permit is under fire for what some see as loud and obnoxious dancing at his club after appropriate, city-mandated hours. But, at a town hall meeting last Wednesday to address the complaints, E3 supporters got the chance to tell their side of the story.

The majority of the attendees decried the revocation of the E3 Playhouse Administrative Use Permit as unsubstantiated and ridiculous. Dancing is not a crime, many stated, and certainly not cause for closing the doors of the center they see as a huge asset to the arts community.

Due to repeated residential complaints of loud music in the past 14 months, the police have issued Anthony several citations for noise and permit violations. Alex Khoury, Santa Cruz zoning administrator, stressed to Anthony and his loyal constituents that the matter at hand has nothing to do with thwarting an outlet for artistic expression or negating E3's influence in the community, but in ensuring the business can function within the guidelines of the use permit.

Reinforcing his assertion that compliance with the guidelines was the critical point, Khoury said, "It sounds like what we've stated here, you're just ignoring, because you don't want to, you don't want to agree to them. There's a process to change them, and you've decided that you shouldn't even follow that process?"

The permit Anthony applied for in 2005 was amended with conditions set forth by the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC). The department claimed that the restaurant's legitimacy within the venue was unclear. To operate with a low-risk permit, after being told he would not receive full high-risk status, Anthony agreed to 20 recommendations given by the city staff and the ABC.

The conditions imposed limits that Anthony claims are not set or enforced for similar establishments such as Vida, Crow's Nest and Kuumbwa. These include prohibiting dancing and limiting alcohol service to 10:30pm and amplified music past midnight on weekends. At last Wednesday's meeting, after public testimony and debate, Anthony was given two weeks to file for permit modifications, including extended hours of operation and alcohol service, as well as permitted dancing. If he does not show that he is consciously making an effort to work through the process, his permit will be revoked on June 6.

The meeting offered glimpses into a far larger debate that has been brewing in the local music scene for years. Should the right of a majority of the public to dance and drink late into the night trump the right of a much smaller group of surrounding residents to have quiet after a certain hour?

One resident of the neighboring 1010 Pacific Apartments thinks not. He stated that it isn't the actual rules he is so concerned about, but the fact that they were broken in the first place. Glenn Peters complained of the loud "hip-hop and electronic bass" music that comes through his walls, and says he is angered that Anthony "lied to him" in the letter of intent distributed throughout the complex before the venue was opened last year.

However, children, seniors and minorities impressed the value of E3 on the council, offering examples of the club's benefit to community members who don't fit the stereotypical profile of a late-night reveler.

Bill Jones, a local senior in his 70s, told Metro Santa Cruz that dancing every Friday to acts like Wally's Swing World fuels his health and gusto for life. He went on to describe how he and his friends migrated from the Catalyst to Palookaville and have now landed at E3. Bellydance Odyssey owner and Attorney Jessica Delgado described the experience of her dancers at Anthony's establishment as safe and welcoming to their sensual and often misunderstood art. Rey Styles, doorman for the E3 Playhouse, stated that, at his job, he learns who people are "by knowing their eyes and knowing their name."

Sprucing up the once downtrodden Front Street area of town was another point used to argue for the continued existence of E3. Many citizens clarified that E3 Playhouse is very different from its former neighbor Club Caution. Several attendees claimed to have witnessed fights, extreme intoxication and harassment toward women at Club Caution, which recently closed.

The meeting ended with a hint of compromise in the air. Khoury repeatedly acknowledged the community's passion for E3, and was challenged to do his part to help Anthony wade through the permit process. One citizen asked for "counsel and guidance for those who may not know the law; counsel that supports the community."

The next day, Anthony said he had begun the process of modifying his permit, and is now raising the $1,400 necessary to apply for "major modifications to a low-risk permit." This would result in extending his hours of operation until 2am.

With a common ground built by community voices, councilmember support and artistic passion, the E3 may survive its permit troubles. This would please hearing attendee Dr. Ali Eppy, local marriage and family therapist, who says, "E3 is good for the body, good for the spirit, good for Santa Cruz."

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