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Eatery owner awaits city’s decision over future biker nights

Neighbors of popular Route 66 fear restaurant is being treated too harshly

Posted: April 28, 2009 9:18 p.m.
Updated: April 29, 2009 7:00 a.m.
 
The embattled owner of the Route 66 Classic Grill said he feels no closer to a resolution of his problems after a meeting with city officials and the local sheriff's captain.

George Thomas met Tuesday morning with City Manager Ken Pulskamp, Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin and Sheriff's Capt. Anthony La Berge concerning his request for a temporary-use permit for the events he holds at his restaurant. The permit request is set to go before the Santa Clarita Planning Commission May 5.

"I thought the meeting was very productive," Pulskamp said. "Both sides are interested in trying to come up with a resolution."

A possible resolution, he said, could involve limiting the number of allowed bike nights for a certain period, and then reassessing the situation.

Additionally, Pulskamp said the idea was raised of Route 66 covering the cost to have on-duty sheriff's deputies on the scene.

Pulskamp plans to follow up with Thomas on Thursday, he said.

Last week, La Berge acknowledged the majority of cycle riders who frequent Route 66 are simply enthusiasts. But he said he is concerned about the occasional presence of members of the Mongols and Vagos motorcycle clubs.

Both groups are listed as outlaw motorcycle gangs by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Thomas is worried the commission will severely limit the number of bike nights he can host. He expects to take a major financial hit if that is the case.

In addition to the Wednesday bike night, the retired Los Angeles Police officer hosts car shows and fundraisers throughout the year.

Thomas said the compromise he was offered Tuesday was the suggestion of being allowed to hold one bike night per month.

He said he offered to reduce the bike nights by a half-hour and hold them May through October, but said there was no interest expressed in that option Tuesday. Similarly, he said there was no interest shown in his idea of involving the city in the organization of the event.

Thomas has held the bike nights for the better part of the past decade, attracting several hundred motorcycle enthusiasts every Wednesday between April and November.

"I know we have the community's support," Thomas said. "I'm open to suggestions on pretty much everything."

La Berge has raised concerns that the weekly bike night Thomas hosts through the summer draws a number of motorcycle gang members.

The bike night may simply have outgrown Route 66, La Berge said, and added that paring down the event from weekly to monthly could be worth a test period.

"We're working with George to see if an arrangement or compromise can be reached," La Berge said. "A lot of different things were thrown out there and suggested," he said.

A neighbor of Route 66 said the city's apparent reluctance is a matter of overreaction.

"I kind of see this as a little bit of paranoia," said Alan Ferdman, chairman of the Canyon Country Advisory Council. "I've been riding for 49 years. I remember the days of motorcycle paranoia."

Ferdman lives several blocks from Route 66, and said he has heard no complaints from neighbors about Thomas' business.

"I don't think there is a big uproar in the neighborhood," he said. "I think George is being treated too harshly."

That sentiment was shared by Crossglade Avenue resident Rick Bell, who was originally dead-set against the bike nights.

"I'd call (Thomas) a friend," Bell said. "As long as he is being responsible to the community ... then I have no problem with supporting him."

When Thomas had applied for a conditional-use permit about two years ago, Bell said he showed up at a Planning Commission meeting to complain about the noise generated by the bike nights.

"It was really loud and we'd get no real response when we'd call (Route 66)," he said.

After the meeting, he said, Thomas took the lead in making occasional calls to Bell to find out if the noise level was too high.
"It's a great relationship now," he said.

As for concerns about outlaw bikers showing up a bike night, Bell said it's a possibility, but added, "I really don't have great concerns."

Larry Mankin, president of the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce, said he's known Thomas for years.

"He is a top-notch business guy and he is a retired cop, so there's no nonsense," Mankin said. "I would hate to see an overreaction (hurt his business)."

The Route 66 issue is in some ways a microcosm of an issue the city of Palm Springs faces every October.

The American Heat Palm Springs Motorcycle Weekend draws upwards of 40,000 people to the desert city for three days.

Ninety-nine percent of those people are simply motorcycle enthusiasts, said Capt. Mike Hall of the Palm Springs Police Department.

He added the event is a huge revenue generator for the city.

"We don't support the event," he said.

Members of gangs including the Mongols and Vagos have turned out for the weekend, he said. There have been run-ins with the police and gang members, he said.

In 2007, for example, he said police squared off with 150 Mongols during a traffic-enforcement stop. That incident did not escalate to violence though, he said. Few run-ins with gangs have escalated to violence, he added.

The Palm Springs police department's approach to the American Heat weekend, Hall said, is to provide a constant presence and show of force.

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