Breakzone Billiards v. City of Torrance, B128098.

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Citation97 Cal.Rptr.2d 467,81 Cal.App.4th 1205
Decision Date30 June 2000
Docket NumberNo. B128098.,B128098.
PartiesBREAKZONE BILLIARDS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CITY OF TORRANCE, Defendant and Respondent.
97 Cal.Rptr.2d 467
81 Cal.App.4th 1205
BREAKZONE BILLIARDS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
CITY OF TORRANCE, Defendant and Respondent.
No. B128098.
Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 2.
June 30, 2000.

[97 Cal.Rptr.2d 472]

[81 Cal.App.4th 1208]

Grossblatt & Booth and Hillary Arrow Booth, Los Angeles, for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Rutan & Tucker, Philip D. Kohn, M. Katherine Jenson, Costa Mesa; John L. Fellows III, City Attorney (Torrance), and Patrick Q. Sullivan, Deputy City Attorney, for Defendant and Respondent.


In this case we consider de novo whether a member of the Torrance City Council may appeal the decision of that city's planning

81 Cal.App.4th 1209

commission to grant a conditional use permit, participate in the public hearing and city council deliberations on the appeal, and vote on that appeal. We also review for any substantial evidence the denial by that city council of an application for a conditional use permit that would permit the sale of alcoholic beverages at an existing business and thus alter the nature of the business's clientele and potentially affect adversely adjacent businesses. We will conclude that the council member was not barred from participation and there was substantial evidence to support the council's quasi-judicial action.


BreakZone Billiards (BreakZone) is a partnership, the partners of which are J. Diane Boyd (Boyd) and David Chartier (Chartier). Since 1994, BreakZone has operated a billiard parlor, oriented to youth, in Rolling Hills Plaza, a retail development zoned C-3 and C-4 near the Torrance airport.

97 Cal.Rptr.2d 473

On February 3, 1997, BreakZone applied to the Planning Department of the City of Torrance for a modification to its previously issued conditional use permit (CUP).1 BreakZone sought permission to sell alcoholic beverages at the new location for its business, which we shall refer to as a billiard parlor, and otherwise expand its operation.2

As was its practice, the planning department sent requests for comments to various city departments, including the Torrance Police Department. On April 4, 1997, the police department filed its response in which it objected to the application, stating in the final paragraph of its comments:

"Although our department realizes that the Breakzone is a legitimate business geared towards offering entertainment for young people and families alike, based on

81 Cal.App.4th 1210

our activity there, it appears to remain a draw for subjects who wish to involve themselves in illegal activity and, it appears, the Breakzone has not taken a responsible position to curtail this illegal and criminal activity. With the amount of alcohol related activity already going on in and around the parking lot and the increased potential for violence posed when subjects consume alcohol, our department feels that by granting a license to the Breakzone to serve alcohol would only add to this problem."3

Other city departments also commented on the application. None interposed any substantive objections to the project. In May 1997, the Torrance Environmental Review Board recommended a negative declaration under the California Environmental Quality Act. (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.)

In the interim, BreakZone had applied to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) for the appropriate authority to sell alcoholic beverages. On September 2, 1997, the Torrance chief of police filed an objection with the ABC to the transfer of the license to sell alcoholic beverages. BreakZone responded to that objection by filing with the ABC an analysis of police contacts in and near BreakZone's location, including the adjacent public parking lot, movie theaters and nearby public buildings. On October 28, 1997, counsel for BreakZone sent the same analysis to each member of the planning commission. Included in the information sent were two police department memos detailing that department's objections to BreakZone's application for a CUP.

97 Cal.Rptr.2d 474

In May 1997, counsel for BreakZone filed with the Torrance city clerk a request for public records, by which in 31 numbered paragraphs it sought all records related to the police department's concerns. The same month, BreakZone asked the city to postpone the hearing before the planning commission on its application for a CUP, which had been set for June 4 until the requested documents had been received and reviewed, and until certain drawings could be completed and provided to the planning department.

On October 1, 1997, counsel for Break-Zone acknowledged receipt of unspecified information from the police department and indicated that BreakZone was now ready to proceed with the planning commission hearing. In materials dated October 27, BreakZone submitted its business plan and other information in support of its operation, including 13 letters from patrons and others.

Written opposition to the application for a CUP was filed prior to the hearing by adjacent residential neighbors (the back property line of the

81 Cal.App.4th 1211

property was shared with a residential community), the principal of a private tutoring school located near BreakZone's premises, nine teachers at that school, and 57 parents of students at that school. BreakZone's counsel also filed a letter dated November 4, in which BreakZone provided further response to the police department's objections. This letter addressed certain police department objections which were first made available to BreakZone in the agenda materials for the November planning commission meeting. BreakZone's counsel also asserted in the letter that these items had not been disclosed in response to its earlier public records act request.

BreakZone submitted for the hearing record over 130 letters and cards in support of its project and excerpts from depositions of two Torrance police officers which BreakZone had taken in litigation which BreakZone had instituted against the developer of the center regarding a lease dispute. The depositions were submitted for the purpose of establishing that the criminal activity in the Rolling Hills Plaza was occurring independent of the existence of BreakZone.

In a supplement to the agenda item for the planning commission hearing, staff advised the planning commissioners that the uses requested by BreakZone required a CUP pursuant to the Torrance Municipal Code.4 Staff recommended denial of the application.5

97 Cal.Rptr.2d 475
81 Cal.App.4th 1212

The hearing before the planning commission was scheduled for November 5, 1997. On the date set for hearing, 29 persons filed requests to speak before the planning commission in connection with this agenda item.

The public hearing on the BreakZone agenda item began with an opening statement by one of the two counsel for BreakZone in which he introduced the owners of BreakZone, which he described as a family-owned business and the sole source of income for its owners, both of whom work at the location. There was discussion of the conditions to the granting of a CUP which had been prepared by commission staff. In the course of this discussion, counsel for BreakZone advised the commission that his client did not plan to have live entertainment with the exception of pool exhibitions by professional players on the weekends. He acknowledged that the owners were also concerned with security and offered to work out a means of responding to the concerns of the nearby private school. Each coowner addressed the commissioners and responded to questions, after which members of the public presented their views.

The first speaker stated that her bedroom windows were 75 to 100 feet from the BreakZone premises. She also worked at the plaza and had many opportunities to observe the noise and misbehavior of people in the parking lot adjacent to Break-Zone. In her experience, BreakZone's efforts at security were ineffective. She presented security reports from Rolling Hills Plaza, including one of an incident in which it was asserted that employees of BreakZone were not permitted to call 911 unless Boyd approved. (Boyd later denied that the policy on emergency calls was as represented.) A second neighbor was concerned that serving alcohol would attract people who came to drink rather than an "upscale" clientele. Other neighbors complained about noise coming from the vicinity of BreakZone after midnight. One patron testified that BreakZone was a good location for teenagers now, but permitting alcohol would detract from the safe atmosphere.

The owner of the private school testified that a pool hall next to the school presented a problem. He had observed Break-Zone customers loiter in front of the school, leave broken bottles and harass school employees and students. The school had no such problems before Break-Zone moved next door.

In support of the application, a pool teacher at BreakZone testified that she is there almost every night and has never observed problems and never

81 Cal.App.4th 1213

felt at risk going to her car. Patrons testified to the positive atmosphere and of feeling safe going to and from BreakZone.

Lieutenant Dennis Addington, commander of the vice and narcotics division of the Torrance Police Department, told the commissioners that some of the persons who frequent BreakZone are gang members and the parking lot is considered to be a gathering spot for gang members. In his view, serving alcohol would increase the problems at BreakZone even though BreakZone's intention is to make Break-Zone into an "upscale business." He advised the commissioners that the increase in police contacts in the parking lot over the years can be attributed to other sources, including movie theater patrons, rather than to BreakZone. He also stated that problems in addition to those which

97 Cal.Rptr.2d 476

had previously occurred would occur if alcoholic beverages were allowed.

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