Fighting for the right to party came to an end Tuesday night when the Rohnert Park City Council voted 5 to 0 reaffirming the denial of a conditional use permit for live entertainment/karaoke at Luduka’s Cafe on Snyder Lane, an idea that garnered much opposition from neighboring residents who feared the karaoke would cause unruly noise late at night.
The cafe, which residents have claimed seems more like a raucous nightclub and bar rather than your average restaurant, is located in a C-N zoned area, a “Commercial-Neighborhood District,” which generally houses commercial offices, retail stores and other businesses that provide basic goods and services to its neighboring residents.
These types of districts typically house laundromats or mini-marts, such as the Oasis Laundry and Fast Mart that neighbor Luduka’s at the University Center shopping center across from Rancho Cotate High School. The cafe applied for a simple business license for the cafe in January 2017. According to the agenda item report prepared by City Planner III, Zach Tusinger, “The license application was approved by the planning division as this was an allowed cafe use within a space where another food business had previously operated (Moxie Java).”
The applicant and cafe owner, Carlos Ortiz, then requested a permit to serve alcohol from Alcoholic Beverage Control shortly afterward and initiated live entertainment, according to the agenda item report. Since the opening of the business, Rohnert Park Public Safety Officers have received eight reported complaints throughout October and November 2017 of large crowds and noise at the cafe.
One such letter of complaint came from Roxanne Lane residents, Peter and Lynn Imbs, whose home is only 60 yards from the cafe. The letter was submitted to a City of Rohnert Park Planning Commission liaison, Suzie Azevedo.
According to the letter, “Our backyard faces Snyder Lane and is exactly 60 yards from the front door of Luduka’s Cafe. When that business first opened, we were happy to welcome a family run cafe into our neighborhood. We’ve even enjoyed several breakfasts there already. However, beginning sometime during the summer of 2017, Luduka’s became a noise nuisance by hosting large gatherings on certain evenings. I would describe the noise as loud, amplified singing coming from inside their cafe.”
The family says they are afraid that the karaoke gatherings would create too much noise for surrounding residents and they say current noise has already gone late into the night until 1 p.m. They also say that the cafe’s desire to have live entertainment goes against many of the city’s regulations on amplified sound and neighborhood peace and quiet. In amplified sound regulations, commercial businesses are not allowed “sound-amplifying equipment.” Also, in the city’s general regulations regarding peace and quiet, the proximity of the noise is too close to a residential area.
“Luduka’s Cafe advertises itself to be a family run restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. They do a very nice job on that… with the sale of alcohol for on premise consumption, I contend that the nature of Luduka’s Cafe business changes significantly,” the Imbs family wrote.
Yet, Ortiz alleges that he wasn’t given a fair chance to obtain the permit and that the city never told him that he needed an entertainment permit in addition to the business and alcohol permit.
In an appeal letter to Azevedo, Ortiz wrote, “I am writing this letter to express my feelings of discrimination and unfairness. I believe that I was not given a fair chance when it came to be applying for the entertainment permit. I understand that I should have researched the matter more carefully, but regardless; many issues could have been avoided. For example, when I attained the liquor permit, I explained my plans to have entertainment as well. The city never told me I would need to acquire a permit for entertainment, letting me go on unaware.” Ortiz also mentioned that he was willing to shorten the proposed karaoke hours from 6 to 1 p.m. to 6 to 10 p.m.
However, for businesses in a commercial-neighborhood zoned area that wish to provide entertainment, it is required and outlined in the Rohnert Park Municipal Code that a CUP approved by the planning commission is required.
Ortiz did apply for the CUP permit in November of 2017 and later in February of 2018, the planning commission denied the permit due to the large number of noise complaints saying that karaoke was already taking place without the permit and in violation of the zoning regulations. Additionally, the business permit was also facing issues as the license wasn’t even finalized due to unsettled safety issues with the cafe.
“Specifically, the hooded mechanical ventilation system in the kitchen has not been approved by the city’s fire inspectors, which has precluded final approval of a building permit,” the report states. The building also does not have a required fire alarm system. Yet, city staff says they still allowed the business to operate on limited permits and that they “Worked diligently” to bring the business up to code.
During the city council public hearing, Ortiz said of the issue, “This is a family live entertainment, it creates work for the students from the high school and Sonoma State and the live entertainment is positive,” Ortiz said.
It is important to point out that residents are not opposed to the karaoke, they just do not want it to be too loud and to go late into the night, such as the August 11, 2017 karaoke night from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., which was advertised on the cafe’s Facebook page.
The council’s vote to reaffirm the denial of the CUP was unanimous and Vice Mayor Joseph Callinan said of the karaoke controversy, “It’s pretty obvious we have a problem. That place was designed as a neighborhood store and neighbors have said it’s been quiet for 30 years. It’s not just you, we’ve had this conversation with restaurants in town because of the noise and we’ve had to shut them down. I feel for you and if you stay open I would like to come out to support you because I am always looking for new restaurants in town.”