Long Beach Councilman Wins Lawsuit by Bar Owners : Courts: Jury decides against owners of gay bar who claimed that Harwood harassed them out of business.
Long Beach City Councilman Warren Harwood has won a civil suit filed against him five years ago by the owners of a North Long Beach gay bar who claimed that Harwood had harassed them out of business.
A Superior Court jury in Long Beach ended a 2 1/2-week trial Friday with a verdict against Robert and Sylvia Oliver, owners of the defunct Club Sylvia at the corner of Cherry Avenue and 61st Street.
“It reaffirms my rights as an elected official to vigorously represent my constituents,” said Harwood, who argued during the trial that he was simply representing the interests of the residential neighborhood surrounding the bar when he opposed entertainment licenses for the club.
In their lawsuit, the Olivers alleged that Harwood had waged a campaign against the club, stirring up neighborhood opposition and encouraging harassment of club patrons by the Long Beach Police Department.
The Olivers contended that Harwood told residents of his district that the bar’s gay clientele would bring AIDS into the neighborhood. The couple also accused Harwood of urging residents to write down the vehicle license plate numbers of club patrons and of having Long Beach police do the same.
Harwood denied such activities and said his concerns about the club were related to noise and parking problems, not its patrons. “The sexual persuasion or any other characteristic of the clientele had absolutely nothing to do with the impact of . . . the business,” Harwood remarked after the trial. “It could have been a group of grandmothers.”
Controversy centered around Harwood’s opposition to the Olivers’ applications for entertainment licenses after they bought the club in 1985. Although the bar’s previous owner had an unrestricted entertainment license, it took a year and five votes by the City Council before the Olivers finally won permission for nightly dancing until 2 a.m. By that time, they claimed, their business had been mortally wounded by restricted hours and bad publicity. The couple sold the club in 1987 to other operators.
The Olivers had asked for damages of at least $200,000, alleging that Harwood had overstepped his authority as a city councilman and engaged in wrongful conduct by harassing them. The suit originally named the city and a neighborhood resident, as well as Harwood. Both the neighbor and the city were dropped from the action before the trial, which was presided over by Judge John R. Stanton.
Assistant City Atty. Robert E. Shannon, who represented Harwood, argued that bad business decisions killed Club Sylvia, not Harwood’s conduct. For example, he said, the Olivers did not realize that the bar needed costly renovations until after they bought it.
James Turner, the Olivers’ attorney, said his clients are considering an appeal of the verdict.