Ryan McDonald

Entertainment permits could aid business in Hermosa Beach

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by Ryan McDonald

Last election season, City Council candidate debates featured stories of overzealous city code enforcement officers barging into comedy shows and board game sessions as if they were treasury agents breaking up Prohibition-era speakeasies. City staff defended their actions, but the tales rubbed against a wound that continues to rankle: it’s not always easy for a business to spice things up in Hermosa.

In response, THRIVE Hermosa, a local organization focused on the city’s economic vitality, launched a proposal for “short-term entertainment permits.” The permits would let businesses feature different kinds of “low-impact” live entertainment as a way to boost business during slow times. The idea originated last fall, during the council campaign, but received its first public airing last month, when the proposal came before the Planning Commission.

The program is intended to be a more flexible and affordable alternative to the city’s existing options for adding live entertainment. Currently, a business wishing to feature live entertainment whose conditions of operation do not already allow it has two options. The business can apply for a conditional use permit, or a modification if it already has one; a CUP can cost up to $6,000 and requires a hearing in front of the city’s Planning Commission. Or the business can seek a “temporary minor special event permit” from the city. The latter option is also costly — the permits run to $500 — and are limited to one event per month.

City budget documents indicate that the temporary minor special event permit is not frequently requested. In the 2015-16 budget year, the city received $916 from the fees associated with the permits. That number jumped to $2,788 for 2016-2017 and was projected to fall to $2,339 for the fiscal year that ended Saturday.

Resident Barbara Ellman, co-chair of the THRIVE subcommittee focused on the permits, said they were a way of helping local business at a time when many brick-and-mortar establishments are struggling to make it.

“We wanted to reward people for being creative and not make it so easy for them to blame the city for their woes,” Ellman said.

Sheryl Main, a THRIVE member who also worked on the proposal, recalled a comedy night that she attended at Brat and Brau, one of the businesses surveyed. (Brat and Brau closed last year, and the Hermosa Beach Brewing Co. filled the empty storefront.)

“It was really fun. It was crowded, but it wasn’t packed, there were not people streaming out the door. It was people eating sausage, drinking beer, and then pretty much everyone walked home,” Main said.

Community Development Director Ken Robertson said that the activities that had prompted attention from code enforcement were “generally not causing problems.” But the city carefully scrutinizes compliance with conditional use permits for alcohol-serving businesses and wanted to avoid the appearance of bias.

“For the city to be consistent, we had to basically stop those activities and tell them that they needed to amend their CUPs,” Robertson said.

Commissioner Pete Hoffman was supportive of the program’s goals but cautioned that the city had to be careful in crafting the ordinance. He said that the idea of hosted games, for example, seemed innocuous but could produce more intense activity than intended. He recalled the popular turtle races at the bar Brennan’s in Manhattan Beach and asked how commissioners would feel about a half-time “cornhole” tournament held at Baja Sharkeez.

“One of the most contentious issues we were involved in last year involved something as seemingly innocuous as Jenga,” Hoffman said, alluding to the outcry caused by noise associated with oversized stacking blocks on the patio of Hotel Hermosa. “You’ll remember we had people out the door on that one.”

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