City could put restrictions on Cliff music

Andrew Turula is concerned that a popular weekday music series at a South Coast Highway restaurant could be in jeopardy.

But Turula, the general manager of the Cliff restaurant, at 577 S. Coast Hwy., has nearly two months to prepare his case to convince Planning Commissioners that the Music Matters series at the venue should remain and doesn't violate the city's noise ordinance.

At their Wednesday night meeting, Planning Commissioners voted to continue the Cliff restaurant's request, which would allow outdoor live entertainment from 6 to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 5 to 10 p.m. on weekends as part of its conditional use permit, to its Sept. 25 meeting.

The restaurant has received complaints that music is too loud, though Turula said noise levels fall below the maximum standards.

"We've had people complain about the volume, that we're causing a ruckus," Turula said in a phone interview. "Since then we've gotten rid of open mic nights and rock bands and now bring in only local artists. We keep it within municipal code and go no later than 10 p.m."

Music Matters series artists perform in the fire-pit area upstairs while weddings are usually held on the event terrace on the property's lower level.

Callers who claim the music is too loud remain anonymous, Turula said.

"They call us but they never leave a name or phone number and they call from a blocked number so we can't call them back," he said.

Turula is requesting live entertainment be included in the Cliff's conditional use permit, which Planning Commissioners approved in 1995 to allow open-air amplified music for weddings and special events on weekends.

Though approved, the special-event music portion of the CUP never became effective since the Cliff's then-owner and/or applicant didn't return a signed consent form and affidavit, a city staff report said.

In 1998, the Planning Commission approved allowing a full-service bar for the Cliff.

The police have kept track of noise complaints and included a tally with the staff report.

Seven loud music complaints were made in 2012 while nine have been made this year, according to police.

The earliest call was at 8:32 p.m. and the latest was 10:12 p.m. for this year, according to the call log. This year's noise complaints have only occurred on weekdays, which is when the Cliff holds its Music Matters series, the staff report said.

Artists include soloists and four-piece bands who use various instruments such as guitars, flutes, saxophones, pianos, cellos and harmonicas, the staff report said.

The series draws middle-aged couples and families, not a rowdy crowd, Turula wrote in a July 7 letter to the Planning Department.

Residents have a right for a peaceful living, according to the city's municipal code.

"Community members have a right to, and should be ensured of, an environment free of excessive noise," the code said.

City staff want music to stop 30 minutes earlier on weekdays, citing neighbors' noise concerns.

"Staff believes the presence of outdoor live entertainment along that stretch of South Coast Highway could create both a distraction to automobile traffic and a nuisance to nearby neighbors," according to the staff report. "The neighbors continue to call and complain to the police and code enforcement about excessive noise from amplified music."

The Cliff keeps its noise below maximum allowed decibel levels, and the traffic on South Coast Highway makes more noise than music from the Cliff, Turula said.

"The max allowed in our area is 70 (decibels) and we never reach 60 or 65," he said.

Turula has retained land-use consultant Steve Kawaratani, a former Design Review board member, to help prepare arguments to present to the Planning Commission.

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