July 12, 2020
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You can’t fight city hall or can you?

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
May 22, 2020

The idiom “You can’t fight city hall,” is believed to have originated in the nineteenth century when Tammany Hall controlled New York City politics. The saying is generally understood to mean “an ordinary person cannot overcome bureaucracy.” In Cotati, Friar Tucks and their “Socially Responsible Drive-in Movie,” experienced the truth of that this week.

As reported, Friar Tucks attempted to provide a safe and responsible event during these trying times. They developed a unique and creative event to help families while providing a small spigot of revenue to help their business stay afloat. After their first event April 30, city hall, as represented by Police Chief Michael Parish, said they couldn’t hold their event. He informed the Nixons that the event was in violation of the Sonoma County Health Officer’s Order.

They tried to work with the city to find a way to continue the event. They voluntarily took alcohol sales out of the event so participants wouldn’t have open containers in public. Rudy Nixon said Parish wasn’t in the mood for any compromises whatsoever. He was told that if they continued the event, they were subject to citation, fines and arrest. Friar Tucks believed they were being socially responsible and in compliance with the rules set out by the State of California, so they went ahead with a second event on May 7.

No alcohol was sold. Participants practiced social distancing and other safety precautions while enjoying a movie from their vehicles. It was orderly and fun. Families had a couple hours of normalcy in the fresh evening air, supporting a local business. The city, as represented by Officer Wardle, attended the event. He talked with the Nixons. He relayed from his superiors that the event was a violation. He didn’t attempt to identify, warn, or issue citations to anyone in attendance. He took no enforcement action. 

After Officer Wardle returned. He gave Rudy Nixon a “Notice of Violation” that stated “You are hereby notified that if you do not cease all activities on this property that are in violation of the attached order within one hour you may be cited or arrested…” Since the movie was almost over, Friar Tucks ceased activities within the hour allotted. 

According to Nixon, Parish attended a meeting with the Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control on Mon., May 11. After that meeting, ABC issued an emergency order which basically notified alcohol license holders that if you’re in violation of law, they can without any due process, take immediate action against your license to include suspension, revocation, or fines.

On May 12, the city as represented by Code Enforcement Official Robert Smith, delivered an administrative citation to Rudy Nixon for violating three codes related to “Alcoholic Beverage Sales.” The basis was a failure to comply with all applicable laws, creating or allowing a public or private nuisance, and minimizing the congregation of individuals.” Rudy Nixon as the responsible party, was fined $300. Smith then went to Rudy’s mother’s residence, woke her up and handed Cheryl Nixon another $300 citation as the business owner. Smith’s letter said, “The citation issued to you… for violations of the Cotati Municipal Code, primarily those found in 17.42.030 relating to alcohol sales.”

If it were just the fines, Rudy Nixon said “one million percent” they might have continued the event. Even though the fines would rise to $200 or even $500 per violation. But an alcohol license is the largest asset they have. Nixon said, in normal times, that license is valued at 200-250 thousand dollars. In effect if the Nixons lost their license, the business would be gone. They had no choice but to cancel the movies.

The city succeeded in shutting the movies down. But the community responded tonight. They showed up in support of Friar Tucks. The parking lot was crowded for takeout orders. There were more people present than seen on the movie night. Stacy Nixon said that when she contacted people who bought tickets to refund their monies, they were all disappointed the city forced them to cancel it. One-third said they didn’t want a refund. They said keep the money, we’re supporting you. 

Wardle was given my card and asked to have somebody reach out to me for the other side of this story. No one from the Cotati PD did so. However, Damien O’Bid, the City Manager reached out to The Community Voice after reading my article last week. He wasn’t happy with what was written, feeling that it didn’t provide a fair perspective of what happened. He was unable to point out any factual errors, it was more about tone and interpretation than the facts. He’s probably not going to be happy with this one either. My interview with him took place today, Mon., May 18, just before my deadline for submission of this story.

Remember, no alcohol was served. Nobody but the Nixons got cited or fined. No one else got threatened with escalating fines, arrest or loss of a key business asset.