Council to China Palace: No Soup for You

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It’s no secret that the economy is tough. You can see it in the opening and closing—and opening and closing again—of retail stores and restaurants all along PCH.

We know politicians have seen the signs. Throughout the recent City Council race, we kept hearing how candidates would encourage business, especially on Mariners Mile.

So the case of the China Palace is especially weird.

Here’s a 30-year-old Newport Beach restaurant owned and operated by a 30-year Newport Beach resident who estimates his clientele is 90 percent Newport Beach regulars. He actually wants to SPEND money to improve his business, actually wants to improve his surroundings and update its accommodations.

A slam-dunk, right?

Those familiar with the restaurant business anywhere know competition is brutal and fierce, even in good times.  Newport Beach is no different. Across the street from China Palace are Villa Nova, the Chart House, Billy’s on the Beach and the Rusty Pelican – all of them permitted to stay open to 2 a.m. with live entertainment and a full bar.

China Palace’s requests seemed reasonable. In the beginning, all they wanted to do was to be able to have the same kind of operation as nearby competitors and the same kind of hours – a level playing field.  They wanted to build a patio, so diners could have a great view of Coast Highway—and all those aforementioned restaurants. China Palace has the available parking, China Palace has a great 30-year-history with the police and the community. And most of all, China Palace is that rarest of rarities in Newport Beach: a Chinese restaurant.

The restaurant’s troubles started with 40-year city employee and soon-to-be-former-Councilman Don Webb’s suggestion to invoke eminent domain to take the restaurant’s lawn to prevent it from building an outdoor patio.

The reason?  One day in the future, once the city of Newport Beach takes over Coast Highway from the state, there might be a slight possibility that the road would be expanded.

So, after a year of jumping through the city’s hoops – a year of having to answer what his son does for a living, of hearing how Mariner’s Mile needs rejuvenation, after all this – this local Newport Beach restaurateur finally got his day in front of the City Council in November.

By now, after a year of being beaten into submission, he decided to ask only for his live entertainment to last until 1 a.m., but wanted to have his newly built patio to be open until 2 a.m.

What the Newport Beach City Council did next was amazing.

First Mayor Pro Tem Michael Henn brought up the Mixed-Used zoning in Mariners Mile as a major concern. One day, in a future not too far away, Henn hypothesized, Coast Highway might NOT be expanded, Instead, he dreamed, fancy condos might tower over Coast Highway, fancy condos whose residents might be annoyed by diners on the restaurant’s patio.

Then Webb equated the proposed patio at the landlocked Chinese Restaurant to the old Windows on the Bay’s waterfront patio that generated noise complaints from across the water.  Even city staffers laughed at that one.

After that, the Council’s restaurant expert (because he owns a Togo’s in Orange), Councilman Steve Rosansky, suggested this bizarre compromise: If the restaurant has live entertainment (which is only allowed until 1 a.m.), the patio must close at midnight.  If it does not have live entertainment, then the patio can remain open until 2 a.m.

It’s an offer that is so lopsided, so inconsistent with the legitimate freedoms afforded China Palace’s neighbors, that it ought to have been rejected out of hand. Instead, after blindingly mundane discussion among Henn, Webb, Rosansky and Councilwoman Nancy Gardner about the future of Mariner’s Mile, the City Council approved Rosansky’s strange suggestion.

While all the restaurants and bars directly across the street, on the harbor, get to have live entertainment until 2 a.m., while they are able to use their patios until 2 a.m., Big Government operatives Webb, Gardner (who, in fairness, has never be claimed to be a pro-business Republican like the other three), Henn and Rosansky injected themselves into a local businessman’s efforts to stay open, telling him when he can or cannot be open, telling him how he can be open, using an ill-defined possible future in which Coast Highway may or may not be widened as an excuse.

It’s no wonder that businesses are struggling on the Balboa Peninsula, which Henn represents, in West Newport, Rosansky’s district, and on Mariners Mile, where Webb was the councilman for eight years.

What’s wondrous—and I mean that in the worst sense possible—is how Newport’s “business-friendly” Republicans will act like Roosevelt-era Democrats.




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