June 30, 2006

As Club Chuey’s Gains Momentum, Patrons Create a Community in Disarray

By Raymond R. Beltrán

What was once a Latino enclave promoting local talent like Los Alacranes and jazz artist Bill Caballero, Chuey’s Restaurant and Cantina has broadened into a full scale hip hop nightclub on Fridays and Saturdays. Club Chuey’s is the weekend name that’s attracted a new element of characters, but when the music stops, the alcohol is dried up for the night, and the club opens its exit doors on the corner of Main St and Cesar Chavez Pkwy in Barrio Logan, laughter, shouting, an occasional brawl, and buzzes of bass begin to strike the silence for a familial community that has slowly been distancing itself from an unsightly past.

The club opened a month ago and rap radio stations like Z90 and 98.9 call on an approximate 880 club goers to Chuey’s per night. So, at 2 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings, those numbers spill over into residential streets, and when they leave, they leave behind a trail of stirred families, club debris, and weekends of sleepless nights for many.

Residents of the Mercado Apartments, a community nestled between Main St and Newton Ave, have witnessed incidents from a woman being assaulted with a baseball bat to having their trashcans thrown at cars that were leaving the neighborhood.

“They play their car stereos loud all night long,” says Juana, a 10 year resident living on Main Street, where many Chuey’s patrons hang out after club hours. “They break bottles and throw trash all over the streets.”

Neighbors were fed up to the point that they wrote a letter, turned petition, last week pleading with the local police department, their Councilman Benjamin Hueso, and Chuey’s owner Luis Garcia to contain the problems away from more domestic areas.

The letter gained 58 signatures and reads, “[The] community is concerned for the security of their families, due to the fact that some of the families include small children or elderly members.”

A meeting took place this Monday at the Mercado complex, where a roomful of residents relayed concerns to Police Officer Gary Gonzales, Club Chuey’s Manager Frank de la Rosa, and Garcia himself. Councilman Hueso and District 8 representatives declined to show.

Officer Gonzales says, “This area is actually getting better ... but we are doing a lot with less.”

According to him, Logan Heights currently shares, with the more prominent Gaslamp District, five patrolling police units who wear thin when hundreds of club goers are released onto the streets.

Garcia says he hires 48 guards from a security company called Mid City, but says their hands are tied to the premises for insurance purposes.

Maria Urias, manager of Mercado Apartments has already begun feeling the financial burden it will take to try and keep tenants safe. She’s acquiring quotes to install sensor cameras every fifteen feet surrounding the complex.

“It’s going to be a lot of money, but what are you going to do,” says Urias. “We’re going to try and do our part to act as a deterrent and see if it works out. If it doesn’t, then, we’ll see what happens next.”

But all affected really want to know who’s responsible for patrons’ actions. Officer Gonzales stated that if Chuey’s knowingly lets their guests leave intoxicated, they would be held liable for their criminal actions resulting from alcohol.

“You’re looking at problems that started two or three weeks ago,” said frustrated Club Chuey’s Manager Frank de la Rosa to residents. “We wanted to have a successful business years ago, but it was supposed to be across the street. The real issue is ‘Where’s the Mercado?’ Ask [Councilman Benjamin] Hueso.”

De la Rosa is referring to a neglected dirt lot, across from Chuey’s, set aside for the Mercado Project, a redevelopment plan meant to attract commerce with independent mom and pop shops and corporate chains alike. Previously headed by the Metropolitan Area Advisory Committee (MAAC) and LandGrant Development, the plan’s been on hiatus for over a decade. This month, the City of San Diego took ownership of the lot.

An over optimistic De la Rosa and Garcia share the idea that with a mercado to lighten up the area, Barrio Logan’s blight would disappear along with many of the club related problems.

Mercado residents say they would at least like Chuey’s patrons to have access to the empty lot to deter club parking from their home fronts, but Garcia says the city’s project manager for Barrio Logan, Jim LoBue, has forbidden access to Chuey’s patrons. LoBue responded saying that their have been no rejections to the idea. It’s under debate and a decision will be made in two weeks.

“Parking would only be temporary, though,” said LoBue, because the lot is set aside for development. “If [Garcia] is going to have this use, eventually, he’d have to find a longer term solution.”

On weekends, Garcia posts two truck lights on the lot to lighten small areas on both sides of the block. Along with barricades and security, Club Chuey’s costs him roughly $7,000, he says.

Among the problems, Mercado resident Conrado Noriega walks out of his home on Newton Ave every Saturday morning to find piles of plastic cups, once a Styrofoam cooler, drink napkins, and many other forms of club debris that has made its way to his side of the block.

Even though Garcia says he’s hired someone to clean up the surrounding area, cups and napkins still remain blown about the streets by noon the following mornings.

Noriega knows that in reality, trash can become the city’s issue, but Councilman Hueso did not attend to provide answers.

Officer Gonzales stated he’d attempt to round up other districts’ units and invite highway patrol to roam Logan.

Now in the restaurant’s third location, Garcia says he often stumbles to make the $18,000 monthly bills. Of course he won’t divulge his actual income but says as the nightclub charges $10 a person at full capacity, the revenue does help keep the place going.

“You know, we’ve been here for years and never left this neighborhood,” says Garcia, agitated. “But hey, the gente doesn’t pay my bills.”

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