Redevelopment or dancing? Roseville fight gets personal

People in Roseville who like to dance say the city is crimping their style. The city says there’s no ban at all and the issue really is about citizen complaints and the illegal operation of a nightclub called The Station.

But the man who runs The Station — a property manager named Len Travis — declares the fight is about something else completely: the city’s desire to push business towards its foundering redevelopment zone.

This effort, Travis said, is largely driven by one man, the city’s planning and redevelopment manager, Paul Richardson. The city has invested $13 million in the Historic Old Town redevelopment project, which includes an area frequently referred to as “the entertainment zone.” Travis said that while his business — outside this zone — has exploded, the city has little to show for all the money it has spent. Richardson came to Roseville in 2002 after 16 years working for Walnut Creek — a city that also had an active redevelopment agency for years.

Richardson said the dispute is about more than just dancing. The underlying issue is that The Station is operating like a nightclub, a different business classification.

The strange tale of The Station started half a dozen years ago when a Jewish World War II veteran inadvertently rented the 7,000-square-foot space to an alleged neo-Nazi skinhead. Predictably, that arrangement went wrong: The property wound up getting trashed during a long night of vandalism.

But the city became suspicious, figuring that the property owner was using the damage as a cover to build a new, larger dance floor.

Travis, equally suspicious, believes the city is deliberately hassling him.

City spokeswoman Megan McPherson portrayed Travis as a stubborn business owner who refuses to follow the law, and who has taken his case to the media after losing in court.

McPherson said that Travis has been illegally operating a nightclub which has been the subject of dozens of complaints from neighbors for public drunkenness, urinating, vomiting and fighting. She said he greatly expanded the dance floor and other amenities, without permission from the city and beyond the scope of his business license. She also scoffed at the notion that The Station’s core clientele is in their 60s and 70s, as has been asserted by supporters.

“I don’t think that clientele being highlighted in the media stories right now are the ones that would prompt those kinds of complaints from neighbors at 2 a.m.,” McPherson said.
Travis tells a very different story — one that involves escalating pressure to pack up and move to the entertainment zone. He also tells of police harassment, city officials lying about renovations and their business licenses, fabrication of documents, and even bias by moralistic city officials.

“There’s no question that we have been singled out by the planning and redevelopment director,” he said of Richardson. “His redevelopment project is a complete flop. But he’s got the juice.”

Travis also said that Richardson, in face-to-face meetings, has expressed moral problems with The Station. At their last meeting, in 2008, Travis said, Richardson said he would not allow his daughter to go there.

Travis also provided copies of emails acquired from the city via a public records act request. In one, police employee Dee Dee Gunther complains: “Attached is the flyer for the party this Friday Night (Good Friday! How respectful!) at the Station. They’re advertising ‘party ‘til 4 a.m.’ Is that legal?”

“Mr. Travis’ assumptions about my personal beliefs or the personal beliefs of any city staff played no role in this or any other case,” Richardson said via email. “Mr. Travis seems to want to make this a personal issue where one does not exist.  We are simply abiding by the law.”

The owners of the property, Irving and Carol Ross of Scottsdale, Ariz., have an active lawsuit against the city. So far they have lost in court, including a Superior Court ruling this month approving a preliminary injunction by the city.

The Station’s business license states they are “a restaurant with evening entertainment.” Travis said that they have kept to the rules of that designation, serving food and having enough seating for everyone allowed in the establishment at one time. In other words, he said, they’re allowed to have music and dancing without being considered a nightclub. He also said that the city changed the ordinance last September, taking out the more detailed description of what constitutes a nightclub to be “establishments that provide floor space for dancing.” As an existing business, he said, they should have been allowed to continue to operate.

Richardson, meanwhile, provided a link to a 2008 YouTube video titled “Sinful Sundays.” It shows what he called “nightclub activities” at The Station, including dozens of people dancing and a female couple kissing.

The Rosses have also filed complaints with the Placer County District Attorney — who turned them down, due to a close relationship with Roseville police and city officials, Travis claimed — and with the U.S. Attorney last month. The Rosses are planning on flying out on Monday to meet with the Sacramento Bee and Capitol Weekly, he added.

A former commercial real estate agent who has transitioned to property management and, in the last couple years, running The Station, Travis said he’s managed the property for almost 17 years. But he still feels bad about the 2005 lease they signed with Folsom Entertainment, Inc. One of the company’s officers, who managed a business called Club Paradise, was, Travis alleges, a neo-Nazi skinhead. This man had a swastika tattooed on one arm, Travis said, but this was not visible during meetings prior to the business opening.

Club Paradise was a nuisance, he admits. When he went to evict them, Travis said he was intimidated by the manager — who he estimate stood 6’2” and weighed 230 lbs. — into letting them stay through April 29, 2007. This turned out to be the date of Adolph Hitler’s final proclamation calling for the extermination of all Jews.

Travis said that he and the Rosses went to the property the next day to find it badly vandalized, with swastikas and anti-Semitic epithets carved into the floor. Irving Ross, 83, is a Jewish World War II veteran who joined the Marines at 17 but missed the war in Europe and served as an infrontryman in the Pacific, Travis added.

According to Travis, the Roseville police quickly declared the case a civil matter, rather than felony vandalism. They suggested moving the business and said the 7,000-square-foot space would make a great police union hall, he claimed.

Instead, Travis said, the Rosses invested $50,000 into fixing the place up, including replacing the two dance floors in their exact locations.Travis said the total size of the two dance floors combined is the same–770 total square feet. He said the city is erroneously claiming the dance floors were expanded to 3,100 square feet. Travis provided signed letters from two former occupants — former owners Jerry Lee and Jose “Pepe” Manzo, who operated the El Coyote Restaurant in the space from 2001 to 2004. Both asserted that the space always had two dance floors, though they didn’t mention how big they were. The city maintains that Travis expanded the dance floors without permits.

“The new dance space was significantly larger than the plans on file and the previous dance floor, covering almost the entire floor area,” Richardson said. “It dramatically altered the establishment.”

Travis’ son, Corey Travis, invested hundreds of thousands of dollars more into a restaurant he ran for a time in the space, but faced increasing pressure from the city to move. When his son decided to give up fighting the city, Travis said, he took over the place himself and opened The Station.

But he was soon subjected to similar pressures — including a $250,000 offer to move his business to the old Bank of America building in the entertainment zone. McPherson said that this number merely reflected a standard incentive for business to move into the zone. Travis said that space was too small, at 3,800 square feet, to run the kind of business he had been operating. In fact, he said, a big problem with the zone is that its older buildings don’t have a space large enough to host an “anchor tenant,” someplace like The Station that would function as a draw to bring people to the area.

Part of the city’s case against The Station is that it is operating within 500 feet of residences. Richardson confirmed that the residences in question are not within the city limits, but said the city still has the right to enforce complaints from these residences against the club.

One thing is clear: Travis and the city have very different views on redevelopment agencies.

Travis said that the police monitoring of The Station was heavily stepped up in April after he posted a large banner outside stating, “Eliminate redevelopment agencies. Start with Roseville’s redevelopment agency.” It also cited “Gov. [Jerry] Brown,” who has made eliminating RDAs a centerpiece of his budget efforts.

Meanwhile, the top link on the City of Roseville website is an editorial by Mayor Pauline Roccucci titled, “We can’t afford to lose redevelopment.” The second paragraph of that piece talks about the importance of the Historic Old Town and the $13 million the city has invested there.

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