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When the regulator has a financial interest

One would like to think that even though the Oregon Liquor Control Commission wants to have lots of places selling liquor, as a means of raising money for the State of Oregon in financially troubled times, it will nonetheless put the needs of the community above the desires of their licensee.

However, some of the recent issues the OLCC has deliberated upon in Inner Southeast were resolved in ways that leave uncertainty on that point.

by: ERIC NORBERG - The 1990 OLCC restriction against encouraging the customers of the gentleman's club at this site to park on the adjacent residential street was originally omitted, apparently by mistake, from its license renewal a few years back. The new owners, who renamed the club -Blush's, have posted a sign inviting them to do it with, it appears, the assistance of the Oregon Lottery Commission! The latest OLCC license renewal on - Blush's did not restore the previous restrictions, despite requests from the neighbors and from the SMILE neighborhood association.There was, of course, the major controversy over Casa Diablo. The Northwest Portland “vegetarian strip bar” saw opportunity in the derelict little building that was once a Wendy’s, located just south of The Acropolis, a similar business although not vegetarian, at S.E. Umatilla and McLoughlin Boulevard. The location is less than a block from a large apartment complex in which many families with small children live, and the property is just east of Johnson Creek Park. The Acropolis has not been a great neighbor to the apartment dwellers, they say – with noise, litter, and parking issues, among others. A second such club next to it seemed to promise a lot more of the same.

The Ardenwald, Eastmoreland, and Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood associations protested the Casa Diablo plan, citing a record of police being called to the original Northwest Portland location. Local and state legislators stepped into the fray, and in the end the OLCC punted for a while, to deliberate what to do.

What it eventually chose to do was approve the license. As this is written, Casa Diablo has yet to move into and open this location, but the neighborhood concerns in the end did not seem to the OLCC to overrule placing yet another licensable liquor establishment into Sellwood, despite an unusual amount of opposition.

Now, quite recently, the Liquor Control Commission has made another decision that dismisses Inner Southeast neighborhood concerns over a similar business – and in this case, the decision seems to us to be a bit more troubling.

In renewing the license of the “Blush” club at S.E. 18th and McLoughlin at the north end of Westmoreland (licensee is RMAK Management, LLC; Rami Makboul, member), the neighbors were not specifically asking the OLCC to deny the renewal. What they were asking for was simply restoring what the OLCC had done before, involving the predecessor similar business at the site.

When the previous “gentleman’s club” at this location was granted its OLCC license, the Commission recognized the potential for problems for the residential neighbors to the south and west of the building, which is accessed from the southbound curb lane of McLoughlin at 18th. The business was required, among other things, to encourage customers not to park on 18th, and to ask them to depart the parking lot on the south side of the building by turning right and returning to southbound McLoughlin.

When the license was subsequently renewed, these restrictions were omitted – reportedly “by mistake”.

The subsequent, current owner of the business inherited that mistake. The experiences by the neighbors with “Blush” without those restrictions in place offered the opportunity, then, to see if these restrictions served a purpose. Turns out, they did. “Blush” has taken advantage of the lack of the restrictions. The sign telling customers to turn right to return to McLoughlin as they left the parking lot is long gone, and there now is a prominent sign on the building in the parking lot, inviting customers to park on the adjacent residential street.

That invitation could have been inspired by the owners’ bright idea to partition off part of their parking lot with a chain link fence and open a used car lot on the rest of it. The OLCC might not have been bothered by that, but the City of Portland took notice, since among other things that part of the parking lot was on land zoned as residential! The car lot was closed down. But the partition, and the invitation to park on the street, remain.

And, since customers are now frequently parking on the street, and departing to the south, there are noise issues and litter issues, including used condoms on the street and in nearby yards, according to the neighbors, who have been working with the Sellwood Moreland Improvement League, their neighborhood association, to try to work out a Good Neighbor agreement with “Blush” for some two years now.

Absent any Good Neighbor agreement, the neighbors and SMILE members appeared at the OLCC license renewal hearing to argue that the restrictions previously applied to the business, and omitted last time around “by accident”, should be restored.

The license was renewed on February 28 – without the restrictions. So much for the neighbors.

As we said, we would like to think that the OLCC will put ahead of the interests of their licensed businesses the legitimate concerns of the Oregon taxpayers they work for, instead of the other way around.

But, so far, the evidence is just not there.