The right to amplified music during the Cliff Restaurant’s Music Matters weeknight concerts comes under the Laguna Beach Planning Commission’s scrutiny Wednesday night when they consider an amendment to the venue’s conditional use permit at their regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. in City Council chambers.
Started in summer 2012, Music Matters began as an official outdoor live music event, held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, in April. Many locals now patronize the ocean-view venue, enjoying cocktails around fire pits and live tunes on a bluff top deck at 577 S. Coast Highway.
The weeknight concerts at the Cliff Restaurant, which has operated at that location since 2006, ran smoothly until city staff, investigating loud music complaints, discovered the restaurant’s lack of a permit for amplified live entertainment. Their current permit only provides for a full-service bar in conjunction with the restaurant.
To remedy the problem, Laguna Village Arts & Flowers, which owns the property, applied for a permit amendment in June. A Planning Commission public hearing, originally scheduled for July 24, was subsequently moved to Sept. 25.
The restaurant’s property owner is seeking permission for live outdoor entertainment with amplified music from 6 to 10 p.m. weeknights and for weddings and special events on the weekends from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The city staff recommends that the Planning Commission approve the permit, but on the condition that the weeknight music be non-amplified and end by 9:30 p.m.
While some performers play acoustic music, amplified music makes up the bulk of the entertainment at Music Matters events, and its prohibition would “degrade the musical experience substantially for the clientele,” Steve Kawaratani, a local resident and land use consultant hired by the owners, points out in a letter addressed to the Planning Commission.
“We’ll lose a lot of money” if they don’t permit the use, agreed Andrew Turula, general manager, who said that turnout for the concerts has been “consistent” and “covers our rent every month.”
Kawaratani noted that according to the local coastal program amendment relating to noise in Laguna Beach, the restaurant’s zone allows for exterior noise levels up to 70 decibels. Therefore, if the city adheres to those standards, they should have no trouble allowing amplified music at the Cliff, since an audio engineer, asked by the owners to do analysis, determined that the highest recorded noise level just outside the property was 65.1 decibels.
In fact, Turula said that on every night they have live music, a hired security guard uses a decibel meter to check noise levels from different locations on their property and surrounding properties every 30 minutes. From that data, they determined that not only do the readings come below 70 decibels, but the noise at Ramona Avenue, where he said most of the loud music complaints have come from, is generated by the music piped out of the Chevron gas station at the corner, where music emanating from the Cliff Restaurant cannot be heard.
Kawaratani cited a recent decision by the Planning Commission to grant a permit to nearby Rock’n Fish Restaurant to allow amplified music up to 1 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday and up to 1:30 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. Absent a stipulation to keep windows closed during the entertainment, the music might as well be outside, he said.
What’s more, the owners of the Cliff have volunteered to make the outdoor venue a smoke-free zone, as a goodwill gesture. “We think it’s the right thing to do,” said Kawaratani. He hopes that if patrons truly appreciate the original artists featured at Music Matters, they will show up to offer their support at the Planning Commission hearing.
If the commission gives “fair consideration” to their permit request, Kawaratani says it has a good chance of succeeding.