San Juan Buatista City leaders deny a proposed alcohol ordinance is targeted at Mom and Pops Saloon, but an internal city memo outlining the proposed ordinance has a computer file name of memmomandpops051215.
The memo, written by City Attorney Deborah Mall, was included in the electronic City Council packet for the May 19 meeting and dated May 12, 2015.
“Subject: Third Street Motorcycle Parking and Public Nuisance,” it begins. “I was asked by the City Council to advise about actions the City could take to remedy disruptions to quiet enjoyment and public nuisance caused by the operation of certain bars in the City.”
The memo lists several strategies to “allow the City to declare a nuisance, revoke, or cause to be issued, a new use permit.” Those strategies include revoking a use permit by declaring a public nuisance, filing an accusation with the State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and revising the conditions for use permits.
“Stricter conditions can be attached to new permits or re-issued permits to address problems which are specific to the establishments or the commercial area. Conditions can be imposed to require sidewalks to remain unobstructed, noise control, graffiti removal, adequate lighting, trash removal, security guards, limited hours, regular inspections or review for compliance with the terms of the use permit, etc.,” the memo reads, which contains momandpops in the title of its computer file name.
Dozens of bikers from all over the region appeared at the May 19 meeting to speak out against an impending effort to close Mom and Pops Saloon, but the City Council firmly denied any such move was afoot.
“I’m a little concerned, and I think it is targeting certain businesses in town,” said Tony Weiss of Aromas. “Whatever ways I can help fight this, I will.”
But city leaders firmly denied the proposed ordinance was targeted at Mom and Pops.
“I read through this whole part and there was nothing about Mom and Pops in this,” said Mayor Robert Lund, who apparently did not notice that the computer file name of the document contained momandpops.
“We are not targeting you,” Councilman Tony Boch told Mom and Pops owner Rhonda Roascio, after she asked why City Manager Roger Grimsley had told her landlord that Mom and Pops’ business license might not be renewed.
The raucus May council meeting was in stark contract to the quiet April meeting when the subject was first brought up. The last item on the agenda at the City Council’s April 21 meeting was titled: “Third Street Motorcycle Parking and Public Nuisance.” Grimsley started the discussion by mentioning a run-in he’d had with a biker outside Mom and Pops Saloon. He also said he is often getting complaints about noisy bikers on Third Street.
The incident that apparently sparked the move to close Mom and Pops apparently occurred around 11 a.m. on April 13, a Monday, as described to the San Juan Star by several witnesses, most of whom wanted to remain anonymous. A young man, who had been a patronsof Mom and Pop’s Bar, was cracking a leather bullwhip on the sidewalk and street in front of the bar. Apparently, Grimsley arrived on the scene and confronted him. An argument ensued; Grimsley called the San Benito Sheriff’s Office, but the man had already left before a deputy arrived.
“Just last week they were confronting me when I asked them to remove themselves from the public right of way and they got in my face. It’s something we’ve got to address,” Grimsley told the council.
The council voiced its support for Grimsley’s actions.
“A lot of times they’ll leave the establishment at 6 or 7 O’clock and not only do they roar out of here, but they are speeding,” said Councilman Tony Boch.
Mayor Robert Lund let slip that there had been a discussion about getting the city manager a gun, but firearms aren’t part of the arsenal the city was planning. The city manager said staff had outlined three different methods of attack. First, he said, there are administrative penalties he could impose for things like obstructing walkways and smoking within 20 feet of a store entrance.
“The nice part about that,” Grimsley said of the anti-smoking law, is that it is 20 feet this way and 20 feet that way. We can probably ban all smoking on Third Street from Washington to Mariposa.”
Grimsley said he and Councilman Tony Boch had talked to Sheriff Darren Thompson and gotten some suggestions the city could pursue. A noise ordinance would be difficult to enforce because deputies don’t have the equipment to measure decibel levels and have to be on the scene when the noise is occurring. Restricting parking was another possibility. If the city installed meters around the bars, motorcycles would be limited to one per parking space.
Councilman Chris Martorana said the city needed to have a mechanism in place to pull a business license.
“We need it,” he said. “It’s not just around this. We’ve discussed another business.”
City staff advised the council that a business could be shut down on a range of issues: being loud, if there are fights or if they serve minors.
“You document it and turn it into ABC and they pull their liquor license,” Grimsley said.
Grimsley said the city had to look for a solution when “the activities of a business create a public nuisance.” But he also warned that the city had to be careful and not push enforcement too far. He did not want to create a backlash from bikers.
“Nothing worse than to bring in 5-600 motorcycles and get flooded. That’s something we’ve got to watch very carefully,” he said.
And that is nearly what happened at the next council meeting, when so many bikers showed up to speak at the meeting that they filled City Hall and blocked all entrances as people squeezed into the doorways trying to hear. Public comment had to be eventually closed.
Outside the meeting, witnesses to the confrontation between Grimsley and the unnamed biker were eager to talk. A couple from Gilroy, who co-own their own business, said they were relaxing at Mom and Pops and having a drink, watching the young man crack his new whip outside the bar when Grimsley pulled up in a white city car, stopped in the middle of the road and began cussing at the man.
“What the F— are you doing,” they said Grimsley shouted.
After chewing him out, Grimsley reportedly sped off. A sheriff’s deputy arrived later, but the biker had already left.
Arthur Zimmerman, a 62-year-old resident of San Jose who works for Tesla, said he drives to San Juan regularly with his wife. They pray at the church, get lunch, have a beer, visit some shops and go home. He said he also witnessed the incident between Grimsley and the man with the whip.
“Two young men where drinking in the bar and one had a little whip he had made or something and they went outside so he could show it. A little car stops in the road and this guy gets out. It seemed like they were all friends, at first, and then after two or three minutes this guy yells ‘I am the F—ing city manager!’ I heard him scream that. I never heard the kid with the whip say anything. Maybe he commented or something. The guy driving the car was very hostile. I’ve never seen him in my life,” he said. “We got in our car and drove away.”
Rhonda Roascio, owner of Mom and Pop’s Saloon, said she feels harassed. For about two years the city has been giving her a hard time, she said. Coincidentally, it was about the same time she and staff had decided to ban Mayor Lund and family from the bar for being rowdy. According to Roascio, the mayor’s daughter was even arrested after starting a fight in the bar while her parents cheered her on from outside. Roascio said the mayor’s wife once threw a glass across the bar.
“They want to point the finger at my customers, but they’re worse,” Roascio said. “The bikers don’t cause any trouble. They just block the sidewalk, but if somebody asks them to move, they say ‘excuse me.’”
According to Roascio, the bikers mean business — not just for her bar, but also for restaurants and shops all over town.
“They go get ice cream, visit the rock shop, get a burger — it’s not just me. A lot of businesses in town benefit,” she said.
But at what cost?
San Benito County Sheriff’s Captain Tony Lamonica said it’s mainly the noise from motorcycles that citizens complain about. As far as Mom and Pop’s, he described it as a typical bar that has the typical kinds of problems bars have.
“It’s not just bikers, a lot of people go in there,” he said. “There are only two bars in town. They’ve been around for a while. We have had our issues there. Is it a nuisance? I don’t see that. When there are problems, the community will give us a call.”
Roascio said her parents owned the bar before her and it has been in the family for more than 30 years. She is contacting a lawyer and hopes the Confederation of Clubs, a nonprofit that aims to preserve motorcycle club culture and lifestyle, will help.
“This city seems to like to get sued,” she said.