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by by Carolina Charm
Saturday, Jan. 26, 2002 at 7:07 AM
Councilmen admit paucity of citations, but still vote to suspend licenses of Club 7969 [Peanuts], renowned transgender, youth and lesbian nightclub, for at least six months.
After they'd heard two hours of pleas from about 100 patrons, club managers and neighbors, mostly in favor of keeping West Hollywood's 40 year old Club 7969 open, Councilman Steve Martin told his weary male colleagues around midnight Tuesday, "I have real problems connecting neighbors complaints [of noise and nuisance] to this club, as opposed to others in the vicinity. We don't normally close clubs for the reasons stated in the formal complaint we have here-a couple times of propping open doors and failure to timely obtain Certificates of Occupancy".
Nevertheless, the Council, including Martin, voted unanimously before the standing-room only meeting at the West Hollywood Auditorium to suspend the club's licenses for at least six months, depending on the City's approval of nuisance and noise abatement improvements by the clubs new management. The closure order could become effective February 4, when the Council is next scheduled to meet, effectively leaving Los Angeles' growing transgender community with no regular place to party in West Hollywood.
"I've heard worse noise from five blocks away from the Sky Sushi Bar [located a block from Club 7969] at 3 am," Martin continued before the vote. "We could not get away with revocation of the licenses of Mickey's or Rage under this citation."
[The fronts of the latter two clubs have open patios where large crowds of mostly gay men converse over loud disco music emanating from the dance floor inside. A similar crowd frequents another gay bar across the street from 7969.]
Club 7969's long absent owner Carol Felt had opened the hearing by apologizing for past errors and promising her new management team would ally long-standing complaints by some neighbors.
Transgender icon Ru Paul, a frequent patron and occasional performer at 7969, plead with the Council to keep open this "very special place", reminding them that transgenders had sparked the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City that inspired the West Hollywood gay community to incorporate the city in the 1970's.
Neither these personal appearances, nor the rest of the clubs patrons and supporters, including many neighbors, however, could sway the city solons from closing the nightspot, still known to many by its former name "Peanuts", for at least the next 180 days.
In fact, most of the council seemed ready to uphold the November order of the Business License Commission's for complete revocation, which would have prevented re-opening by the same owner for at least a year.
Councilman Jeff Prang felt that complaints of noise and nuisance as long as 11 years ago, aired by neighboring residents Tuesday, and before the Commission's two meetings last October, were relevant, despite the fact that said alleged incidents were not part of the formal complaint logged against the Club. "I'm sensitive to the transgender community and our city's commitment to diversity", he said, referring to points repeatedly stated by 7969's supporters, "but the findings of the Commission's staff are only a glimpse of the problems I've hear about over the years".
Councilman John Duran added "Community compatibility [of patrons with neighbors] can't be the basis, constitutionally, of closing a night spot. Diverse people come here to West Hollywood to play, not only on Santa Monica Boulevard, but also Melrose and Sunset [predominated by "straight" clubs]. But there have to be limits on a playground. Here, the Constitutional freedom of patrons inside the club is not what's at issue. Rather it's their impact outside the club on a close-by residential neighborhood." Duran contrasted the club's proximity to apartments to other clubs like Mickey's and Rage, which are in more commercial areas of the city.
"Community compatibility", not nuisance that could be linked to 7969's patrons, seemed to be the motivation of most of the neighbors in favor of closure. One opponent characterized the Club's record, without citing specifics, to that of the Watergate scandal! Others praised nearby establishments not frequented by the transgender community, as "good businesses".
The new management team lead by Dan Levy, the club's "Community Relations Director", and John St. Jar, formerly of the Revolver Club, in response to the to the Commission's November revocation order, had nearly doubled security, including roving private patrol cars, and trash pick ups.
Nevertheless, both citizen opponents and several councilmen expressed distrust that management would keep its promises, indicating that past management had a poisoned relationship with the city. Council chair John Heilman and member Sal Garfield alleged their meetings with former manager Steve Goldberg had failed to alleviate repeated violations. Heilman, this year's Mayor, denied bias against the transgender patrons, claiming they had closed several straight and gay clubs in past years.
Councilman Martin, however, pointed out that private meetings between the council members and club managers do not carry any legal weight, and that the club had complied with the only previous orders regarding noise, in 1994.
Regardless of whether management or the city, or both, are at fault, the bottom line is that, barring some unseen reversal, as of February 4, in a city crowded with bars for gay men and straights, and some for Lesbians, transgenders will be the only "diverse group" without a home nightspot in West Hollywood.
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