A large crowd of people showed up at City Hall last night eager to hear the city's Planning Commission consider an application for a tattoo parlor.
However, they walked away empty handed after it was announced the matter could not be decided that evening. The Commission chose to delay its decision after receiving some late correspondence from the applicant's attorney.
The applicant, Milton Chavez, a 31-year old tattoo artist who currently works at a shop in Oceanside, applied for a conditional use permit to open up his own shop inside the Newport Commons building, at 27174 Newport Rd in Menifee.
His attorney, Robert Moest, is the same attorney who handled a similar case in Hermosa Beach, where the city had initially banned tattoo shops. Moest took that case the US Circuit of Court of Appeals, and in October 2010, won.
The City of Menifee had initially denied Chavez' application for a tattoo shop when it was discovered the place of business would lie 913 feet away from Seventh Day Adventist Church. Existing city ordinance requires that tattoo shops be located at least 1,000 feet from churches.
Chavez then asked City Hall for a "variance", which is effectively an exception to the law. City Hall therefore referred the case to the Planning Commission, which last night postponed the hearing until the City could take Moest's letter into full consideration.
When the City measured the distance from the church to the proposed shop, it drew a straight line, as the crow flies, from church's property boundary, to the proposed tattoo shop.
But when measured by actual walking distance, according to Google Maps, by heading down Newport Rd, and then down Bradley Rd to the church, the distance appears to be well over 1,200 feet, enough to satisfy the ordinance.
Moest's letter argues...
"...and that the distance between his shop and the church, while less than 1,000 feet measured as the crow flies, is well over 1,000 feet if measured by walking or driving distance."
The letter goes on to say that if Chavez is denied the variance by the City, he will pursue legal action against the City.
The city ordinance in question, 2010-084 does not specify how the distance should be measured.
"It's common practice for cities to measure distance between property line to property line, as the crow flies", explained Carmen Cave, Planning Director for the City of Menifee. When asked if the City Council or Planning Commission could modify the ordinance to measure distance by walking/driving distance, Cave answered, "Absolutely".
Darcy Kuenzi, Menifee City Council member, seems open to the idea. "I'd be interested in revisiting the ordinance, and take a look at what we can do", she said after watching the Planning Commission hearing in the lobby last night. "But let's consider all the requirements, including the proximity to churches and schools, the health and safety, the operating hours, and see how we can make it fit in our city."
Even though the Planning Commission chose to postpone its decision last night, people in attendance were still allowed to voice their opinions, forming a long line behind the podium.
The sentiment seemed evenly divided between those in favor, and those against.
"It's coming down to the church people and the tattoo people", said one speaker in favor of the tattoo shop. "There's a smoke shop right next to the church", he continued. "It doesn't make sense."
"Tattoos are everywhere. Kids see them everywhere." said a woman who described herself as a soccer mom. "You can't judge a book by its cover", she said while removing her sweater and exposing her arms. "I'm tattooed, and I'm a part of them."
Another woman against the tattoo shop knew of someone who once owned a shop and then sold it. "In his experience, many, many shops that he was aware of were fronts for drugs", she reported.
"That's the most ridiculous thing ever" Chavez responded after the hearing to the woman's remarks. "To just lump us? That's just disingenuous. I'm a father of three, I don't do drugs."
"There's a smoke shop next to the church", Chavez continued. "They have bongs and stuff, and do you think that's not for drugs?"
Chavez sounded confident of his chances.
"This is not going to be your average tattoo shop", he added. "It's going to be very high end, we're going to serve many well-known people in the motocross and sports industry. This is not a place that will bring drugs or crime into the city."
"We should be a business-friendly city", Council member Kuenzi continued. "There are people in Menifee who want tattoos and right now they have to spend their money in other cities. I think we should try to keep that money here."
As it stands now, the City of Menifee is taking the attorney letter into consideration before allowing the Planning Commission to make a decision. No timeframe was given.