At its October 17 meeting, the Walnut Creek City Council denied an appeal by Spoontonic Lounge which means its hours will continue to be cut off at midnight.
The council voted unanimously in favor of supporting the Aug 24 planning commission decision to limit Spoontonic’s hours and alcohol sales. The Planning Commission imposed the condition requiring Spoontonic to cease sales and service of alcohol at 11:30 p.m. and to close at 12:00 a.m. seven nights a week.
At the planning commission meeting, the Planning Commission adjusted the CUP after it deemed the business did not meet its performance standards and was impacting the community. Staff said a business needs to be in violation of its CUP only 1 time to take action, but staff said there were as many as 5 violations:
- High number of police incidents associated with Spoontonic
- Failure to control patrons and prevent disturbances
- Increased impact on neighboring land use
- In violation of Deemed Approved performance standards in the municipal code
- Serious criminal incidents degrade economic vitality of neighborhood
- High number of alcohol-related incidents is endangering others in the area.
It was reported by staff last week that Spoontonic had ample time to make changes while also highlighting that since the Aug 24 meeting it was encouraged the owners attend the bar meetings with other local business owners and the police department. It was shared Spoontonic did not attend either of the two meetings that occurred since the meeting. Staff also highlighted that Spoontonic has had more incidents of criminal activity and public nuisance compared to two neighboring businesses in Retro Junkie and Masses combined—despite both businesses having more than double the occupancy as Spoontonic.
Walnut Creek Police Lt. Bruce Jower shared over a three-year period they have 43 calls for service while 38 calls were after 11:00 pm—which is why they urged the closing be 11:00 pm. They also have recovered 7 guns in 5 separate events—along with multiple arrests.
Councilemmebr Matt Francois asked Jower about the bar meetings each month.
Jower explained each month that the bar owners get together than talk about the issues they are seeing along with the police department. This involves crimes, calls for services, security concerns and how they could better provide safety to staff and patrons. They could also talk about recent events or trends that are occurring within the bar community.
Jower stated over the last three years, he never saw Spoontonic at these meetings—which was recommended they attend at the August 24 meeting. In the two meetings held since the planning commission meeting, Spoontonic did not show up.
Michael Biggs, an attorney representing Ajit Ahluwalia, the owner of Spoontonic Lounge, said they were appealing so they could find solutions and said they didn’t have much time in August to gather information—they also provided a 25-page appeal.
Jaz Walia, Spoontonic’s manager stated they have been working proactively—by adding additional cameras and has a plan for change. That plan includes armed security from A&H Security, become more of a lounge than a nightclub, become more of a speakeasy and specialty craft vs cocktails. He also said they would shift to having an environment that is more attracted to sports rather than dancing by adding more pool tables and TVs.
Biggs stated the time span to enact positive change has been too short and that Spoontonic was a small business and needed cash flow to make things happen. He requested more time to implement changes.
Francois pushed back on the need for more time showing the police department informed Spoontonic over a year ago and why it was not addressed since three letters over the last 12 months have been sent.
Walia said they have been making improvements but didn’t address Francois question.
Biggs argued there was back and forth discussions after the letters, but they were not to the police satisfaction. He also argued the Walnut Creek Police were not applying the statistics correctly.
Francois stated they have already been given a lifeline and there not been any measurable steps to change the nature of the establishment. He wanted to know what proof they would have things would be operating better.
Councilmember Kevin Wilk asked about alcohol sales after 11:00 pm versus before.
Walia could not answer that question, however, after some back and forth, it was stated 60% of their sales are after 11:00 pm.
Wilk also asked about if there has been a dress code put in place. Walia said not yet—it was determined they were first asked to place a dress code back in March. Walia also stated the guns recovered were from traffic stops, not from inside the premise.
Lt. Jower clarified the statement made by Walia stating the guns were from traffic stops, however, the drivers of the vehicles were patrons of Spoontonic Lounge—he shared the police department worked an undercover operation with another agency to identify those coming out of Spoontonic Lounge that are possibly armed through surveillance. He shared that when trunks would open, they would observe a possible firearm which would result in the traffic stops.
Mayor Cindy Silva asked about sales after 12:00 pm which was the same question the planning commission asked. Walia said they make 60% and the later it gets the more sales they make.
Silva stated the planning commission asked Walia to create a business plan and wanted to know if it was created. Walia said “no” but he was telling the council of his plans to change.
“You are telling us the plan, a business plan is a written document that outlines what you are going to do in your business, what you will generate in revenues, what you will incur in expenses,” responded Silva. “Have you written a business plan.
Walia said no.
Silva then asked Walia if he hasn’t done a business plan how will he know he will be successful in changing the model of the business. She also asked if he changed the music.
Walia explained for the month of September they got rid of a DJ and people didn’t like it and they lost a lot of business.
Mayor Pro Tem Loella Haskew stated she was concerned that they make most of their sales between 12:00 am to 1:30 am and people were drinking a lot in 90-minutes for them to have that much sales at that point in the night—or the people are drinking way to much alcohol.
After public comments Biggs stated there were a lot of issues but Spoontonic stated their intentions but cutting their hours at the beginning of the positive change would hurt them economically where the business would be “mortally wounded”.
“It could be stated the business is carrying the cross of the criminals,” stated Biggs. “We as individuals cannot control the actions of other individuals unless they break the law and get arrested which is what the police have been doing a great job… Spoontonic want to be a part of positive change.”
Haskew asked if they could create a ladder where the applicant can earn back a half-hour here or there based on no police calls for service or other measurables. The city attorney said that it would have to go through a hearing process in a six-month period. Or, they can modify the planning commission decision and further consider this topic in the future, but it had to be a hearing due to the CUP and due process.
Francois shared he believed they have only gotten to this point with one other operator in 11-years but it signifies there is a broken point in the process where things needed to be fixed.
“We have to a duty to protect the residents of our city and police department and be good partners with our businesses, not punish anyone,” stated Francois. “When I look at the history of this, 43 calls of service over 3-years, most of the calls being after 11:00 pm, many of the calls for service are extremely serious, a track record of our police department reaching out… it should have been a wake up call and substantive changes being made last fall.”
He said the staff recommendation of an 11:00 pm closure would have been justified based on issues, but thought the planning commission reached a reasonable result.
“I am trying to be fair and balanced but also respectful of the fact prior issues and warnings given,” stated Francois. “This is serious enough where we have to make a change to the operating hours. This gives you the opportunity to change the business model and come up with a plan… if that happens and you get a good track record then you can come back and apply to change it. But where it stands right now… its gotten to that point where the system is broken and take a significant stand.”
Francois said he would be supporting the denial of appeal because businesses have standards and they need to keep them.
Councilmember Cindy Darling said she was supportive of what the planning commission decided which gives Spoontonic the ability to rebuild.
Wilk had several concerns about how the business was run, number of times Walia was on site in a month, not knowing if all guards are certified with guard cards, while not answering his questions to his satisfaction. He also expressed concerns on not following recommendations such as the dress code or attend bar meetings.
“To not know off the top of your head exactly the percentage of alcohol sales by the hour when you don’t have food, just alcohol. That is really surprising. Most businesses know exactly when they are business by the dollar and cent,” stated Wilk. “It tells me you are not as much of a hands on owner as you think you are.”
Wilk highlighted he heard from several people tonight you they were willing to make the changes, but they didn’t do whatever it took while noting the location is in a place that pulls police resources from other parts of the city.
Wilk also expressed concern that businesses may not call the police department because it could count as a “tally” against them and didn’t want that to be the case.
“Part of my concern here, we are not closing the business, we are changing the hours and I understand a lot of sales happen between 11:30 to 1:00 am, I keep hearing my mom say nothing good happens after midnight and I think there are problems that happen after midnight which you even said it happens close to closing time,” explained Wilk. “I am concerned that with Spoontonic closing earlier those businesses who haven’t had a problem might have an influx.”
Wilk also stated he would have trouble if one of his kids wanted to go to Spoontonic and that is not a reputation they want to have and hoped this would help change things for them. He said he hoped a year from now they are back talking about increasing hours after changes had been made.
Haskew said she was supporting the planning commission recommendation but believed this group could overcome the bad reputation and difficulty of the location. She said changes should have been made sooner.
Mayor Silva said she would be supporting the planning commission decision.
“Deemed approved is not a right, it’s a privilege,” said Silva. ”It’s a privilege that gets lost very quickly. You have had 18-months to 2-years where the behavior of the business has been unacceptable.”
She said what she heard tonight and watching the planning commission was blaming it on others while part of the deemed approval is taking care of the impacts of the business which is just inside the four-walls.
“You have a responsibility to know what is happening outside to keep it from happening and to clean up the premises in the middle of the night. Your neighbors shouldn’t have to come to you at any day and ask you to clean up the mess from your patrons the night before” stated Silva. “You have blamed it on crime in general in Walnut Creek and I have heard it from your lawyer and you, and I would say if it was crime in general then we would be having many more establishments with the same problem and we don’t.”
Silva further was critical as she explained the planning commission told Spoontonic on August 24 to get a business plan created and attended bar meetings—which they did neither.
The council then voted to approve the planning commission recommendation action and deny the appeal from Spoontonics.
Information from Walnut Creek Police (Aug meeting)
The Walnut Creek Police Department, in its 6-page report, stated the following: CAD Call Print Synopsis Report between March 2021 and April 2023 from WCPD’s CAD system. These report contained 65 events related to Spoontonic Lounge’s address, 2580 N. Main St., but not all 65 events were associated with Spoontonic Lounge activity. For example, some events were random traffic stops and incidents where 2580 N. Main St. was used as the event location.
Police say between March 2021 and April 2023, the total cost for WCPD’s response to 39 calls for service equaled $184,106.
87% of WCPD responses were after 11:00 pm (34 events divided by 39 total events).
- 18% between 11:00 pm to 12:00 am.
- 21% between 12:00 am to 1:00 am.
- 31% between 1:00 am to 2:00 am.
- 18% between 2:00 am to 3:00 am
In the past three years, there have been at least 65 events at or in the vicinity of Spoontonic Lounge that has required response by the Walnut Creek Police Department (“WCPD”). Of these 65 events, 39 were determined to be directly associated with Spoontonic Lounge activity. These 39 events involve the following serious incidents:
- Fifteen (15) incidents of fights;
- One (1) incident of homicide;
- Five (5) incidents of gun possession;
- Two (2) incidents of sexual assault;
- Seven (7) alcohol-related incidents involving public intoxication and/or driving under the influence;
- One (1) incident of domestic violence;
- Three (3) incidents involving narcotics;
- Two (2) incidents involving threats;
- One (1) incident of brandishing a weapon;
- One (1) incident of assault with a deadly weapon; and
- One 1 incident of a disturbance
Of the 39 events directly associated with Spoontonic Lounge, twenty-three (23) were handled as criminal cases, and the other sixteen (16) required significant police response.
The following 39 events were determined to be associated with Spoontonic Lounge activity requiring WCPD response. Responding officers handled 23 of these events as criminal cases. The other 16 events require significant police response. NOTE: * Represents cases.
- 21-7382: March 31, at 11:27 p.m., a verbal dispute between coworkers and provided mediation.
- 21-10346: May 04, at 12:54 a.m., fight between two females.
- 21-11980: May 21, at 9:59 p.m., an anonymous reporting party complained Spoontonic Lounge was serving alcohol to minors.
- *21-17315: July 16, at 0052 a.m., an intoxicated male was kicked out of Spoontonic Lounge, approached a female’s car, and vandalized it while the female was inside. Officers arrested a male for public intoxication. Due to his intoxication, the male had to be transported to the county hospital for treatment.
- 21-17510: July 17, at 10:49 p.m., three males fought outside Spoontonic Lounge.
- *21-17528: July 18, at 1:37 a.m., a quadruple shooting led to homicide. Officers had already responded to this location three prior times on disturbances during the night and had already made an arrest. One victim is deceased. One was in critical condition. Two others were injured. An arrest was made related to the shooting
- *21-17521: On July 18, at 12:36 a.m., an intoxicated male tried to fight a patron inside Spoontonic Lounge and assaulted bouncers. The male was transported to county jail.
- 21-27923: October 29, at 8:24 p.m., drug sales occurring at Spoontonic Lounge.
- 21-30158: November 20, at 2:20 a.m., a confrontation between patrons inside the bar. The involved subjects were waiting for others in the parking lot to fight.
- 21-30335: November 21, at 11:28 p.m., drug sales occurring in the parking lot
- 21-32476: December 10, 2:05 a.m., fight inside bar involving a patron and bouncer.
- *21-33412: December 18, between 12:30 and 2:00 a.m., an intoxicated female met a male suspect inside Spoontonic, and both went to a car in the upper parking lot. The male subject had sex with a female who did not remember having sex due to her intoxication. The female woke up with bruising on her arms and neck (hickeys). The investigation concluded the male sexually assaulted the female. This male stole her phone and other personal property. The male was arrested, and charges were filed with the DA’s office.
- 22-174: January 02, at 11:43 p.m., a bar patron was refused entry and threatened to shoot security personnel.
- *22-2204: January 26, at 1:15 a.m., fight inside the bar where a male punched a male and female patron sitting at the bar. Bouncers intervened, and the suspect fled the scene. Both victims sustained minor injuries.
- 22-6528: March 05, at 2:03 a.m., report of a fight between two groups. Involved subjects were gone on police arrival.
- *22-9045: March 30, at 1:00 a.m., fight inside the bar between two females. Bouncers intervened and held down the primary aggressor. The involved females sustained minor injuries.
- *22-9394: April 14, at 1:38 a.m., fight inside the bar where four males assaulted the male victim. Bouncers intervened and kicked the four suspects out of the bar. The victim sustained minor injuries.
- *22-11158: April 25, at 12:00 a.m., fight between a male and female in the bar. The male grabbed the female and would not let go causing bruising to her arms. The female reacted by throwing a drink at the male. Charges were filed against the male for domestic battery.
- *22-12392: April 30, at 11:59 p.m., fight between an intoxicated male and an intoxicated female in the parking lot. The male hit the female in the face. No injuries were sustained by either involved subject, and it was determined to be a domestic incident.
- 22-13940: On May 14, at 12:24 a.m., there was a fight involving ten subjects near the bar entrance. Four involved vehicles fled the scene upon police arrival.
- *22-13947: On May 14, at 2:04 a.m., an intoxicated male stating he was drinking at Spoontonic Lounge attempted to drive home, where he was contacted in the Spoontonic parking lot trying to get inside his car. He was arrested for public intoxication and transported to the county hospital.
- 22-16453: June 05, at 10:50 p.m., via 911, four males in the parking lot were arguing and threatened to shoot up the bar. The involved subjects fled in three vehicles before police arrival.
- *22-18615: On June 26, at 2:10 a.m., two males argued in the Spoontonic parking lot, where one brandished a knife at the other. The other male brandished a firearm back and fled the scene in a vehicle. No one was injured. Bouncers stepped away from the altercation for personal safety reasons.
- 22-19464: July 03, at 11:56 p.m., two subjects entered the liquor storage closet and had sex. They left upon police arrival.
- *22-28032: September 17, at 1:10 a.m., an intoxicated male stating he was drinking at Spoontonic Lounge left the bar, entered his truck, and backed his truck into another parked vehicle in the Spoontonic parking lot. He was arrested for DUI and was combative due to his intoxication. He was transported to county jail.
- *22-29596: September 30, 1:44 a.m., in the Spoontonic parking lot, a male brandished a knife at the victim and then attempted to stab him. When the officer arrived, the male fled the scene but was located. The male then aggressively charged officers. An officer deployed the CED to take this male into custody safely. The male was transported to county jail for assault with a deadly weapon.
- *22-29830: October 06, 1:39 a.m., an intoxicated male was harassing female patrons inside the bar. Bouncers kicked him out of the bar, where he was later arrested for public intoxication. He was transported to county jail.
- *22-34018: November 04, 11:26 p.m., officers made a traffic stop on a vehicle seen sitting in the parking lot above Spoontonic Lounge for a couple of hours. Officers searched the car, and one firearm registered to an occupant of the vehicle was located, and an additional “ghost gun” was also located. Both subjects were determined to reside outside of Walnut Creek. They were arrested on weapons charges and transported to county jail.
- *22-34021: November 04, 11:56 p.m., officers made a traffic stop on a vehicle leaving Spoontonic Lounge. Officers searched the car and found a firearm. Officers determined the driver associated with this vehicle was prohibited from possessing a firearm. This subject was arrested on weapons charges and transported to county jail. This subject was determined to reside outside of Walnut Creek.
- *22-34023: November 05, 12:15 a.m., officers made a traffic stop on a vehicle leaving Spoontonic Lounge. An occupant of this vehicle was seen earlier by detectives putting a firearm in the trunk. Officers searched this vehicle and found a loaded firearm registered to the vehicle’s driver. This subject was arrested on weapons charges and was transported to county jail. This subject was determined to reside outside of Walnut Creek.
- *22-34028: November 05, 1:56 a.m., officers made a traffic stop on a vehicle leaving Spoontonic Lounge. Officers contacted three occupants inside the vehicle. Officers searched the vehicle and found two firearms registered to two occupants. These two subjects were arrested on weapons charges and were transported to county jail. They were determined to reside outside of Walnut Creek.
- 22-37957: December 10, 1:04 a.m., an in-progress fight between six subjects occurred in the parking lot. The involved subjects fled the area in three vehicles before police arrival.
- *23-2324: January 21, 1:49 a.m., officers were dispatched to a disturbance regarding a male trying to fight patrons outside Spoontonic Lounge. Officers contacted and arrested this subject for public intoxication and transported him to county jail.
- *23-2330: January 21, 2:25 a.m., WCPD Detectives witnessesed a Spoontonic Lounge bouncer with a gun in the bar. Surveillance was able to follow him to a vehicle, after which a traffic stop was made. The subject also had body armor, and his vehicle was equipped with red and blue emergency lights. He was ultimately arrested as a prohibited person in possession of a firearm.
- *23-5974: February 12, 1:45 a.m., a female was thrown to the ground by her ex-boyfriend outside of Spoontonic Lounge, which got other patrons involved causing a more significant disturbance. The female victim sustained injuries to her face. The female reported this incident one week later.
- 23-6258 / 23-6264: February 19, 2:18 a.m., an in-progress fight between two large groups of subjects occurred in the parking lot. The involved subjects fled the area in three vehicles before police arrival. An uncooperative victim went to Antioch Kaiser for minor injuries while attempting to break up the fight.
- *23-11052: April 02, 12:31 a.m., a fight involving several patrons started inside Spoontonic Lounge, where an employee activated Spoontonic’s panic hold-up alarm due to the intensity of this fight. Responding officers were advised that a gun was involved and responded with their lights and sirens activated. When officers arrived, a large fight (estimated to involve over 40 subjects) occurred in the parking lot. Officers arrested three subjects for disorderly conduct, public intoxication, and warrants and transported them to county jail. The investigation revealed that one of your bouncers aided the suspect in discarding a firearm and evading officers. Fortunately, no one involved sustained serious injuries.
- 23-13931: April 27, 1:40 a.m., officers responded to Spoontonic Lounge on a 911 hang-up call. Officers located a female patron suffering from alcohol poisoning, who had to be transported to John Muir Hospital.
- *22-32777 : May 05, 10:20 p.m., WCPD Detectives arrested the narcotics dealer identified on February 24, 2023. WCPD Detectives located and arrested this dealer in the parking lot of Spoontonic Lounge and found him possessing cocaine packaged for sale. He was transported to the county jail and booked into jail for sales of narcotics charges.
Calls for Service: Spoontonic Lounge vs. Retro Junkie vs. Masses
- Spoontonic Lounge: Between March 2021 and April 2023, WCPD responded to 15 fights (38% of call responses), seven alcohol-related incidents (18% of call responses), one domestic violence incident (3% of call responses), one disturbance incident (3% of call responses), and five gun possession arrests (13% of call responses). The total number of calls for service was 39. Maximum occupancy is 90.
- Retro Junkie: Between March 2021 and April 2023, WCPD responded to 10 fights (16% of call responses), 29 alcohol-related incidents (48% of call responses), five domestic violence (8% of call responses), ), 12 disturbance incidents (20% of call responses), and no gun possession arrests (0% of call responses). The total number of calls for service was 61. Maximum occupancy is 180.
- Masses: Between March 2021 and April 2023, WCPD responded to one fight (20% of call responses), two alcohol-related incidents (40% of call responses), two domestic violence (40% of call responses), ), no disturbances (0% of call responses), and no gun possession arrests (0% of call responses). The total number of calls for service was 5. Maximum occupancy is 286.
- SPOONTONIC LOUNGE – APPEAL OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION’S DECISION TO MODIFY THE CONDITIONAL USE PERMIT AT 2580 NORTH MAIN STREET
- Agenda Report
- ATTACHMENT 1 – PC NOTICE TO SPOONTONIC WITH RESO 3933
- ATTACHMENT 2 – DRAFT CITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION – SPOONTONIC LOUNGE
- ATTACHMENT 3 – PC AGENDA REPORT – ATTACHMENTS – CORRESPONDENCE – RECD 8-24-23
- ATTACHMENT 4 – SPOONTONIC LOUNGE SUPPLEMENTAL REPORT (WCPD)
- ATTACHMENT 5 – APPEAL BY SPOONTONIC LOUNGE