PRESS-TELEGRAM, GAZETTE READERS ARE IN THE DARK ABOUT WHAT GABELICH DIDBy Bill Pearl
Eighth District representative Rae Gabelich did it at the Long Beach City Council meeting a week ago today (April 19)— not that anybody who relies on the city’s two most popular newspapers, the Press-Telegram and the Gazettes, would know about it. Because they didn’t report it.
Gabelich did it during a public hearing. The owners of Belmont Shore’s sometimes-a-little-too-hotspot, Panama Joe’s, were applying for a renewal and expansion of their soon-to-expire entertainment permit, this time to include dancing. A group of Belmont Shore residents were pleading that the permit be denied, alleging they are already beset by such impacts as noise, drunkenness and public urination.
As the City Council listened to public testimony and consulted city management staff (which supported granting the expanded permit for a one-year period) it appeared to be trapped in a can’t-win situation. Although everybody—most notably, Belmont Shore’s councilman Gary DeLong—seemed to agree that the residents’ plight was terrible, their interaction with city staff outlined a scenario in which denying the permit would make things worse.
In fact, that’s exactly what DeLong said beforing asked city staffer Eric Sund if denying the requested permit would prevent City Hall from enforcing 26 accompanying permit conditions. Sund said that was correct. DeLong made a motion, seconded by Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, to grant the permit.
Councilman (and lawyer) James Johnson took DeLong’s reasoning even further, asking Sund what choices were available to the council. Sund replied that the Council could grant the permit, deny the permit, or grant the 12-month short-term permit that city management had recommended and DeLong had moved to adopt. Johnson summarized: “So my understanding is, because they applied for an entertainment license with dancing, there’s no option to approve entertainment without dancing because that hasn’t been applied for.”
And that’s when Gabelich did it. In an exchange with Sund that consumed less than 60 seconds, she extracted his admission that denying the upgraded permit and letting Panama Joe’s current permit expire wouldn’t strangle the business—it could still operate as a restaurant and could simply apply for a new entertainment permit without dancing … exactly what it has now.
“I think that’s the thing to support,” Gabelich said. “If we’re having this conversation and you want to protect the communties, you’re turning it into a nightclub.”
Gabelich’s colleagues were not swayed. The council voted 5-2 to grant the upgraded permit (Yes: Garcia, Lowenthal, DeLong, O’Donnell, Johnson; No: Gabelich, Andrews; Absent: Schipske, Neal). All in all, it was a moment that provided significant insight into the way the Long Beach City Council and City Management often orchestrates the issues of an agenda item to justify the outcomes they want.
But anybody who only reads the Press-Telegram or the Gazettes didn’t get that insight—maybe because those papers didn’t, either. Or maybe because of something else.
Here’s the Gazettes.com’s next-day report of what happened at the April 19 council meeting in a piece titled “So Moved: Council Honors Bixby with Bike Vote” that briefly summed up several Council actions. “In other business Tuesday, the council [among bullet points]…Approved a one-year entertainment permit with dancing for Panama Joe’s in Belmont Shore after adding additional conditions. The permit was opposed by some residents.”
On Sunday April 24, PressTelegram.com carried a feature story headlined, “Panama Joe’s Controversy Symptomatic of Belmont Shore bar issues.” It cited the Council’s April 19 hearing but didn’t mention Gabelich’s exchange with city staff and the resulting admission it extracted—which would have told readers that the council arguably had an option for addressing the hearing item beyond doing what it did.