The San Carlos Planning Commission’s near-unanimous approval of plans to expand the Carlos Club without hearing further from the sheriff’s captain opposing it was "a gross neglect of the public safety,” said Mayor Andy Klein who wants the decision appealed.
On Monday night, Klein will ask fellow councilmembers if they, too, want an opportunity for reconsideration. If a majority agrees, the council will revist at a future meeting the Planning Commission’s 4-0 vote.
Club owner Fred Duncan was not surprised at news of a potential appeal.
"They’ve fought me tooth and nail so I’m not surprised. Hopefully, they give me the opportunity to talk to them first. This has been so one-sided,” he said.
Klein will have allies in at least councilmen Mark Olbert and Ron Collins, both of whom said they’re not sure if the decision should stand but believe the City Council should have an opportunity for reconsideration.
"I’ve got some questions and always said if the police chief has concerns, I have concerns,” Collins said. "So if they ask us to put it on the agenda, I’m in favor.”
Olbert met with City Manager Jeff Maltbie Wednesday afternoon about the issue before deciding for sure he also wants to talk about the Carlos Club. Olbert planned initially to call up the item himself before learning Maltbie will place it on the agenda.
"I think it’s a pretty significant decision that has a lot of ramifications. If nothing else, there’s the budgetary impact and that is enough for thinking the council ought to hear it,” Olbert said.
Councilman Matt Grocott said he’s willing to hear the request but isn’t one to make an appeal himself. Councilman Bob Grassilli is also open-minded but said he hasn’t followed the specific details of the proposal and opposition because he figured an appeal would deliver him the full staff report.
"I don’t have a horse one way or another in this one,” Grassilli said.
The Carlos Club, and its iconic neon sign, sits at 612 El Camino Real. Owner Fred Duncan wants to turn an empty parking lot behind the club into an open air patio with a food truck, live acoustic music and seating for 96 patrons. Duncan received a parking exemption last year with little fanfare but hit some hurdles requesting a conditional use permit after Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Rothaus, head of the San Carlos Patrol Bureau, worried that expanding the night club could also expand what he said are public safety problems. Rothaus reported 131 incidents from the club; a later breakdown by the Sheriff’s Office showed that 69 were spot checks initiated by deputies and seven were more specifically alcohol-related like driving while under the influence.
Some individuals residents and the Greater East San Carlos association also opposed the proposal.
On Monday, March 5 the Planning Commission voted 4-1, with Vice Chair Scot Marsters opposing, in favor of the permit. The majority said they liked changes Duncan had made to the design plan in response to previous questions and concerns but Marsters said he still had an issue with safety. At that meeting, the commission did not ask Rothaus, who was in the audience, to speak which Klein called "incredibly disrespectful.”
Rothaus had made a presentation at a meeting in the fall when the permit request first came before the commission.
Commissioner Angela Harper-Pederson said she was "taken aback” at the overall alcohol statistics reported for the city by Rothaus and Commissioner Steve San Filippo questioned the validity of the numbers.
If that were true, Klein said, they should have asked Rothaus for further clarification before voting.
"They don’t care at all about the public safety,” Klein said. "This is the first time in history the chief has asked them to deny an application and they clearly needed to look at that.”
Duncan said the commission did "a great job” but thinks Marsters, a GESC member, came into the discussion with his mind already made up and that the lack of public opposition at the meeting is telling.
"Now the City Council has to start all over again and rewind this whole thing,” Duncan said.
Klein said the prevailing issue is the expansion vote. However, coming on the heels of a controversial cell tower proposal later appealed to the City Council and sparking a lawsuit, the decision gives Klein pause about future appointments and re-appointments to the commission.
"This is the second time we’ve had to go back to the drawing board,” he said.
Planning Commission Chair Karen Clapper could not be reached for comment.
But while Klein said he’s ready for an appeal and leaning toward a denial of the permit, others on the council say they want to fully vet the issue first.
"I know the chief has concerns and the owner wants to improve his property so that’s where they’re at loggerheads. This is a tough one because there is certainly an increase in restaurants and places to gather in the last 10 years and I’m not sure where we draw the line or if the problem is specific to the Carlos Club,” Grassilli said.
Grocott lives downtown and said he’s made calls to the police when late hours and summer weather bring out "a party attitude” although that isn’t specific to the Carlos Club. There must be a balance, he said, between knowing you live near downtown with the associated incidents and not being a college town.
"What do you do? If it comes before us I’ll certainly try to weigh it as objectively as I can but I’m not someone to call for an appeal,” Grocott said.
Duncan and his supporters have said the bar’s problem is not the number of incidents but its perception by some in the community. He said law enforcement singles out his club and by virtue of its location and later hours gets more attention.
Klein dismissed the argument.
"It’s like when you catch a kid always misbehaving so the teacher knows you have to watch him. He’s not just being singled out for no reason,” Klein said.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.