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Long Beach Council Denies JP23 Nightclub’s Business License Application, Reverses Hearing Officer’s Decision

The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to overturn a decision by a hearing officer allowing nightclub JP23 to do business in the city and ultimately denied the owner’s business application Tuesday night.

The decision is the final act in the saga of JP23 in Long Beach, after nearly four years of renovations, landlord requests and appeals, which coincided with security breaches and non-compliance issues from the disco.

The denial letter, which was released March 14 and confirmed by the board on Tuesday, said “the plaintiff has consistently refused to comply with the rules and regulations of the City of Long Beach.”

During the two years that JP23 was in residence, there were eight criminal citations, two security breaches, four letters notifying the company of non-compliant activity, and one cease and desist order. Commercial Services Manager Amanda Hall also cited residents’ complaints of music disruptions, fights, drunk people in public, parking and other instances that resulted in more than 30 calls to the police department. from Long Beach.

On May 25, a hearing officer presided over the case for five days and ultimately ruled in favor of JP23 owner Jacob Poozhikala. The hearing officer’s closing statement acknowledged “the numerous past violations and citations” and said that “the plain language of Long Beach Municipal Code 3.80.421.5 simply does not contemplate that these past violations and citations be taken into account in the refusal or approval of the request”.

The city council hired independent outside legal counsel to preside over city staff’s decision before giving its final say. Best & Krieger’s Christopher Pisano advised the board to deny the hearing officer’s decision and uphold the denial of JP23’s commercial license.

“What he [the hearing officer] was basically saying that the history of violations should be ignored,” Pisano said. “That struck me as odd, and we looked at your code very carefully.”

Attorney Christopher Pisano presented this slide of the hearing officer’s statement to Long Beach council members on August 23, 2022. (Long Beach City Council)

Owner Jacob Poozhikala was on hand to plead his case to the council and argue that “the city has bent over backwards” to prevent his business from succeeding.

“I put $3 million into this place…and a lynching mob was created to make sure I didn’t open this business,” Poozhikala said. “No one could tell me why I couldn’t get a business license; I need transparency.

Employees at the Long Beach and Fullerton sites responded to public comments to vouch for Poozhikala’s character, while concerned residents, mostly women, cited the nightclub’s history of drug and rape incidences.

A timeline of JP23’s time in Long Beach

Poozhikala applied for a site-to-site, person-to-person transfer of a liquor license in January 2018 to open a nightclub in downtown Long Beach at 110 E Broadway. He said he wanted the venue to be “a little house of the blues” and quickly invested over $1 million renovating the space in the first two years.

In August 2021, a woman claimed to have been sexually assaulted in downtown Fullerton. It was not the first time JP23 was related to an incident of sexual assault, and Poozhikala insisted that was what ultimately led to his denial of a business license in Long Beach.

On September 1, 2021, the city began receiving complaints from residents that JP23 was advertising to hold a grand opening party on September 3-4. At the time, JP23 had yet to submit a full business license application and the location was still under construction. Hall called the situation “very unusual” and said several departments had contacted Poozhikala.

Poozhikala said he was publicizing the event in hopes that the license would be approved by then. Once he realized that wasn’t possible, he said he canceled the event and “took the $60,000 cost” of entertainment fees he had already paid. City staff confirmed that JP23’s social media accounts announced a change of venue to the Fullerton site.

On Sept. 3, the Long Beach Fire Department and LBPD responded to a call to JP23 “just before 4 a.m.” for a false fire alarm, according to Hall. City staff say the grand opening event took place despite warnings to the company.

On September 16, Poozhikala submitted a completed business license application to the city. The following day, the club received a cease and desist order for all public use and two violations for occupancy without approval. JP23 responded by submitting a temporary occupation permit on September 24, which was granted to them on October 11.

From October 2021 to February 2022, there were eight misdemeanor citations, two letters from the city, and two virtual meetings held with Poozhikala on “process and entertainment licensing regulations.”

A meeting in November granted JP23 a conditional commercial license, which Hall said was “an act of good faith to help this company become part of the community.”

Long Beach Municipal Code 3.80.421.1 states that during the 180-day period that a conditional license is active, “the applicant may be disqualified for failing to comply with applicable laws and regulations at any time.”

The complete Long Beach Municipal Code 3.80.421.1 (B) which was presented by Christopher Pisano to council on August 23, 2022. (Long Beach City Council)

Poozhikala council claimed the conditional license was outside the scope of the city’s director of financial management, who it said should “perform the ministerial function of issuing the license”.

He argued that since JP23 had received approval from the planning, construction, fire and health departments, the CFO had no reason to deny approval. He cited Long Beach Municipal Code 3.80.110, which states that the role of the chief financial officer “is not intended to be regulatory.”

The city rejected JP23’s business license application on March 14 and received an appeal from Poozhikala on March 23. Between the time of the appeal and the hearing, the city conducted an inspection of JP23 and found an unauthorized mezzanine and stage, which they were advised to stop using.

In April, the board referred to a hearing officer, who issued its final decision on July 15 to license the company. Pisano’s independent report concluded that the city should reject the hearing officer’s findings.

Poozhikala asked the board to give him a trial period to do business in Long Beach to “prove how great we are for the city.”

“You are here for working class people, you know how stressful it is to have 80 people who don’t know if they have a job or not,” Poozhikala said.

The board voted unanimously to reject JP23’s application.

Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement