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The Thin Med Line

Downtown Santa Cruz isn't the only place wrestling with culture-vs.-quiet issues. Aptos' Mediterranean Club is a hit with music fans, but is drowning in the county permit process.

By Mike Connor

When Patrick McKee and his son Abi took over the Mediterranean club in May of 2002, they quickly discovered that the jazz/blues thing wasn't working anymore. They went after the punk/rock/hip-hop scenes instead, and young audiences loved the new programming, flocking out to Aptos to witness the local rock music revival. But the McKees say that the county sheriffs weren't quite so enthusiastic.

"[The police] simply shut down the Aptos Club by doing walk-throughs all the time," says Abi, "and they did come over to us and threatened, actually verbally threatened, to do the same to us. They said go and look at the Aptos Club right now, we will kill your business, we'll just do walk-throughs all the time. Now we addressed that immediately with the officers' sergeant, who was a different sergeant at the time, and they backed off. Since then, there's a new sergeant and she seems great, really helpful, very reasonable, very balanced and fair. But previously we had gotten a lot of harassment."

Both Abi and Patrick have since reported an excellent relationship with the Sheriff's Department. But now, the club is in hot water with the county since complaints from neighbors brought attention to the club's use permits, which didn't originally specify use as a nightclub; rather, it was permitted by the county as a restaurant with an auxiliary bar. Over the years, it gradually morphed into a nightclub-type venue with live music, and has been operating that way for over 30 years, long before McKee considered buying the place. Recent complaints from neighbors have triggered a re-examination of the original permits, and now the county is giving the Med one year to either apply for a nightclub permit or come back into compliance with their original use permits.

"One of the reasons I bought the bar here is because it's in an unincorporated area," says Patrick. "I said, well, this is great, I don't have to deal with all the city crap, but then I found out that the county's got things to deal with too."

For his part, Abi McKee remains hopeful that they can address the neighbors' concerns and continue hosting live music, noting that they've beefed up security and tweaked the programming to spread out the popular shows, all the while maintaining an open-door policy when it comes to neighbors' concerns. Still, some of the neighbors would rather see the club shut down altogether.

"There's only one or two people that feel very strongly this way," says McKee. "I think the majority of the neighbors, from what I can tell, who I speak to regularly, are very supportive. But it only takes one or two people, both of which, one was a business owner in particular, and one was a property owner. And they kind of, from what I can tell, actually overreacted and became mean about it and libelous about it. And like I say, I understand their concern, but they did reach some sort of critical point and get very--I don't know what you call it--uncharitable. Because they literally typed up absurd things on a pamphlet and passed them around to people on a beach and were absolutely set on shutting this place down."

Now, the McKees are paying the county Planning Department $128 an hour for any work associated with their new permit application. Patrick McKee says that the area where the Med stands was zoned for commercial use only up until just a few years ago, but he's still doubtful about his permits getting approved. Now, they're in trouble because the club is five feet too close to the State Park maintenance yard.

"We're going to go through the [permit] process," says Abi. "We're going to take every measure to ensure that the bar is a place that can support local music. We've been supporting it very well while at the same time trying to be a good neighbor and not disturbing people too much. I think there is only so much you can do and people have to just realize that this has been a bar for thirtysomething years, it's had music."

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From the August 25-September 1, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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