ABOUT TWO DOZEN angry neighbors and anti-sex trafficking activists stood on the sidewalk outside SE McLoughlin's Acropolis steakhouse and strip club on Friday, September 9, rallying support against a new strip joint planned next door. Just a few steps away, a larger crowd of strippers and supporters of the new club—the second branch of vegan nudie establishment Casa Diablo—also gathered. They held their own pro-strip club counter-protest, waving signs bearing a devilish boobs-and-wings logo adorned with mottos like, "We are creating jobs for families!"
The protest/counter-protest points to a tension in Portland policy: While bar and club owners advocate heartily for their rights as economy-fueling businesses, neighbors often feel the city does not do enough to rein in problem establishments. With that in mind, Portland City Council expressed approval last week for a plan to stiffen the city's rules for problem bars, known as the Time, Place, and Manner Ordinance.
But neighborhoods likely won't see much change unless the city ups enforcement. Even then, loopholes in the rules and the complicated relationship between the city and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) will continue to frustrate people who want a crackdown on un-neighborly establishments.
The Time, Place, and Manner Ordinance sparked a firestorm when city council passed it back in 2004. Portland is the only city in Oregon that takes advantage of a state law that lets cities step in and change a bar's hours and style of operation if it repeatedly violates city code ["Three Strikes and You're Sober!" News, Jan 29, 2004]. The law led to an unsuccessful lawsuit from a restaurant owner when it went into effect and many worried that the city would use the rules to shut down bars based on a handful of complaints from whiny neighbors.
But in reality, the law has been used only sparingly. Too sparingly, says Commissioner Randy Leonard, who spearheaded the original law.
Since 2006, according to city records, the city has only used the law to set new rules for the operation of nine bars.
"It has never felt to me like it's been used to its logical limit," says Commissioner Leonard, who thinks the Office of Neighborhood Involvement should go after code violations with the same vigor as his fire code squad, which effectively shut down downtown icon Greek Cusina in 2010. ["All Greek to Me," News, Jan 7, 2010]
The new Time, Place, and Manner rules change the number of nuisance complaints a business can have under it's belt before it's a "violation"—from three complaints in 30 days, to three in 60 days. It also adds a long list of serious crimes (assault, sex abuse, illegal drug activity), all of which will score the bar an immediate violation.
"I actually talked a couple times with police officers about the existence of the Time, Place, and Manner Ordinance, and until very recently they didn't seem to be aware of it," says Leonard.
In the past two years, the city evaluated complaints at 125 bars, but only wound up asking eight to come in for Time, Place, and Manner hearings: Nine Muses, Bora Bora, Cabaret, OHM, 720 Club, Dixie Tavern, the Crown Room, and Silverado.
There were also four businesses that changed ownership before the process was complete, nullifying previous code violation complaints. While some businesses certainly change hands for legitimate reasons, Office of Neighborhood Involvement Liquor Licensing Specialist Theresa Marchetti acknowledges that change of ownership is a loophole in the city law. Owners who want a clean slate for their business can sell their bar to a friend or relative and still run the operation as a "shadow owner." Fixing that problem will "probably take extensive conversation," says Marchetti.
That's exactly the situation neighbors allege occurred at Casa Diablo, the vegan strip club opening up in Southeast. Casa Diablo's Northwest Portland location got in hot water with the city for nuisance issues in 2009, according to Marchetti, but then-owner Johnny Zulke sold the business to current owner Carol Lee. Since Zulke remains very active in certain aspects of the business (Casa Diablo's website redirects to "Johnny Diablo's" Myspace page, for example), Friday's protesters alleged in an open letter that he sold Casa Diablo to avoid citation. Zulke says that's false, and that he sold the business during a company-wide reorganization and it has stayed out of trouble ever since.
One other frustration for neighbors is the bureaucratic divide between the city, which only keeps track of city code violations, and the OLCC, which focuses exclusively on liquor law violations. A bar that overserves customers and leads to drunken driving, for example, may get in trouble with the OLCC, but face no flack from Portland government. A bar whose customers urinate on neighbors' lawns might get a slap from the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, but not have their liquor license threatened.
As OLCC Director of Licensing Farshad Allahdadi explains enforcement against problem bars: "There's two different tracks and they're not parallel and there's usually no overlap."
The OLCC's process can take years to shut down even the bars that get into repeated trouble. Cabaret on West Burnside, for example, was cited for both the city's Time, Place, and Manner Ordinance violations and liquor law violations in 2008 and 2009 ["The OLCC Hit List," News, March 17]. Since then, there have been over 35 serious liquor law violations at the strip club, even though the establishment remains open. However, after intervention from both public agencies, owner David Kiraz has sold the club. Its new owner is his brother, Daniel, who plans to convert it into a sports bar.