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A Tale of Two Cypresses

cypress Local lounge’s hours cut after permit issues and noise complaints

The first sign that things might not go well for supporters of the Cypress Lounge at the Sep. 17 City Council Meeting happened before their topic had even been broached.

Anne Sallie, a local artist who frequents the lounge and sells her crafts there, was standing outside the chambers, explaining all the work the establishment has put into limiting noise and disturbances after complaints from the neighborhood.

“I’ve really seen a lot of changes on the patio,” she said. “They’ve roped it off and don’t allow drinks outside. They’ve also done a lot for noise—there’s a machine that regulates the volume. And they hired First Alarm for security.”

Just as she was saying this, a police officer approached and politely requested that everyone outside keep their voices low, as it was proving a bit distracting for those inside the meeting.

“That was so ironic,” said Sallie, whose red dreadlocks reach past her waist. “We’re already not making a good impression.”

And try as they did, Cypress never made much of a comeback.

The lounge received a permit in 2009 to operate as a late-night restaurant with “incidental music,” meaning music could be in playing in the background, but not at a loud volume. However, neighbors to the downtown restaurant, as well as the Santa Cruz police department, claimed it was functioning more as a nightclub than a restaurant, with the problems—late-night noise and violence—that goes along with most clubs. And upon a recent review from the city zoning administrator and planning commission, several small violations were found, such as an illegally built stage and a dance floor larger than the allotted 300 feet.

Because of these issues, the city council voted to scale back the hours of operation for the restaurant inside Cypress, Pono Hawaiian Grill, to 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends, and require all music to stop by 10 p.m. every night. This is a significant change to the previous closing time of 1:30 a.m. Thursday through Saturday nights.

“If they cut the hours off, it’s castrating the place,” says Cypress security guard Gabe Torres.

The decision, which rejected Cypress owner Ashton Hodge’s appeal in July to keep the same business hours, came after a three-hour long public comment period. Those who spoke included patrons and employees of the Cypress, as well as members of the Chestnut Homeowners Association, whose members sought to shut down Cypress’ late-night music and alcohol service after years of disruptions in their neighborhood. The public comment was, for those observing, a tale of two very different Cypresses.

One woman who lives near the Cypress complained of “yelling, and men slapping women around” outside of her home late at night.

Cypress’ supporters claimed that more of the disruption likely came from other downtown bars and clubs, such as the Red Room and Motive, as well as people who hang around Pacific Avenue.

“The neighborhood is super well organized, and they’re really putting all the problems from the neighborhood on Cypress,” owner Hodges told Good Times. “They’re scapegoating us. They’ve made themselves very well-heard to the city council, and every problem they’ve ever had comes from Cypress, according to them.”

They also argued that Cypress has a much safer and low-key vibe, with several young women testifying that it was one of the few places downtown where they felt comfortable going alone.

But what it came down to was less an issue of what the feel of the lounge was, and more a question of trust and permits. Although Hodge recently put a lot of effort into compromising with the community—including First Alarm and the noise-monitoring machine—many felt that it was too little too late, after too many complaints gone unanswered.

“[Hodges] has made a lot of promises that he has not kept,” said one neighbor of Cypress, echoing the main fault the city council found with Cypress as well.

“I went out on a limb for this. I advocated for this,” Mayor Ryan Coonerty said during the meeting. “There’s no way we would have approved this [two years ago] if we knew this was what it was going to be.”

The meeting dragged during the council’s deliberation, and didn’t get out until 11:30 p.m.—well past the new curfew for the Cypress Lounge.

 

 

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