http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2012/04/06/council-puts-club-neo-on-probation-cuts-number-of-patrons-allowed


Pleasanton Weekly

News - April 6, 2012

Council puts Club NEO on probation, cuts number of patrons allowed

Action follows January shooting, earlier parking lot fights

by Jeb Bing

The Pleasanton City Council placed the troubled Club NEO on probation Tuesday night, ordering the Gateway Square nightclub to cut the number of patrons allowed in the club by nearly one-third and to close its two bars by 1 a.m.

The move came after a series of disturbances both inside and in the parking lot outside in December and January, including a shooting Jan. 14 that injured a Fremont patron.

The council's decision was actually to deny an appeal by Club NEO attorney George Mull of an earlier vote by the city's Planning Commission to modify the existing conditional use permit for the club's operation.

The nightclub's attorney filed the appeal on Feb. 23 challenging the commission's decision to limit the number of nightclub patrons to 300, down from the 812 permitted in the club's conditional use permit granted earlier. The club must also close the bar at 1 a.m. daily, instead of 1:45 a.m. as previously authorized, and the council also ordered the Gateway Square parking lot to be cleaned of any glasses and cans by 2 a.m.

The council's vote to deny the appeal was 3-1, with Councilman Matt Sullivan absent from Tuesday night's meeting and Councilwoman Cindy McGovern voting against the measure because she objected to a 30-day probationary period. She said the frequency of past disturbances at the club that brought police officers to Gateway Square was so numerous that the probationary period should be much longer.

As it stands, Police Chief Dave Spiller and Brian Dolan, the city's director of Community Development, will observe nighttime activities at Club NEO during the 30-day probationary period, which started Tuesday night, and determine if the club can accept more patrons.

Although neither the council nor the Planning Commission voted not to revoke the club's operating permit entirely, for the time being, the club was ordered to provide and pay for a security staff that meets the requirements of Police Chief Spiller and his department.

At Tuesday's council meeting, Spiller said security at the club has been spotty with inadequate staffing and no training of club employees on "intervention techniques" in the event of trouble.

"We simply don't have the resources to handle the large number of Club NEO patrons who were involved in the recent disturbances," Spiller said.

He said his entire on-duty police force was required to be at the Gateway Square center in the late hours of Dec. 17 to quell the fights in the parking lot and the "side-show" drag racing car activities under way.

It was even worse on Jan. 17 when fights inside the club and in the parking lot had to be subdued by 10 officers from the Pleasanton force, eight from Livermore, six from Dublin, three sheriff's deputies and seven from the California Highway Patrol.

"Disturbances such as these are highly unusual for Pleasanton," Spiller said. "We've never had problems like these before."

But Mull, Club NEO's attorney, told the council that these disturbances were "highly unusual" for the club, too. He said that the club suddenly started getting overcrowded in November.

"That's when postings on Facebook and other social websites made Club NEO the club of choice for African-Americans in Oakland and crowds started coming," he said.

Mull said the club has been serving 600 or more patrons a night without problems and that restricting its allowable number of patrons to no more than 300 at a time will make the business unprofitable.

"We've put half-a-million-dollars into this club and won't be able to operate with that small of a number," he said.

Gateway Square manager Gene Harrilenko of Alamo said Club NEO has stopped paying rent on the 10,000-square-feet of space it leases at the Chabot and Stoneridge drives corner of the center. He said that he believes there is a good possibility that the club is preparing to close.

Club NEO is owned by Diamond Pleasanton Enterprise, which received the Planning Commission's approval to increase the maximum occupancy from 643 patrons to 812 when the club's name was changed in 2010.

Diamond Pleasanton asked the commission to further modify its operating permit to provide activities for those under 21, but that application has yet to be considered.

Diamond Pleasanton Enterprises also has sued the city of Pleasanton asking the Federal District Court to set aside a city requirement affecting the type of and the volume of music it plays. That case is still pending.

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