Calif. Club Owner Sues County for $5 Million

LOCKEFORD, Calif. — Nightclub owner Timothy Kruppe is has filed a $5 million lawsuit against San Joaquin County for violating his free speech rights.

According to the Lodi News-Sentinel, Kruppe plans to open a new club called On the Beach as a space for "regular dancing" between professionals and patrons. He contends in the suit that the county's $6,328 fee for a use permit application is "unconstitutionally excessive" because it reflects no correlation with the county's actual costs to consider the application.

"The county inexplicably charges the same amount to determine if people can listen to live music and dance within an existing bar as they charge to review development of a shopping mall," states the lawsuit.

Assistant county counsel Mark Myles countered that a standard use permit application policy is perfectly valid, as the county must determine whether the proposed use of a site is compatible with what already surrounds it.

"If you wanted to have a large agricultural store, you need a use permit," Myles said. "If you want to do petroleum and gas extraction, you need a use permit. You don't want gas extraction next to a nursing home.

"We don't really care about the type of entertainment," Myles said. "If you want to have an event, and it's going to attract 500 people, that's what we want to know. Are there sufficient facilities, like water and sewer, for 500 people? Does it have enough parking for 500 people?"

Another allegation leveled by Kruppe in his suit, however, is that an unwarranted stop-work order was issued against him Jan. 17 pertaining to the construction of a 22-inch-high dancing platform in the club, despite the fact that no permit is required by the county for platforms under 30 feet high.

The suit states that county officials notified Kruppe of the required use permit on Jan. 22. Kruppe alleges that the county subsequently carried out unannounced inspections of the premises on more than six occasions.

Kruppe's attorney, George W.M. Mull, maintains that he asked senior code enforcement officer Rick Matsuka to stop taking pictures of the site until work crews had lowered the floor. While Matsuka complied, Mull said a county attorney threatened him with legal action for not allowing Matsuka to take pictures.

Myles said he hasn't yet addressed these incidents with the county code enforcement staff.

Mull asserted that Kruppe's First and 14th Amendment rights have been violated by the county because of its subjective bias against him and the type of entertainment he seeks to provide.

"It has nothing to do with nightclubs," Mull said. "The county can say they like you or don't like you. We're trying to get the law changed."

Kruppe previously faced off with the city of Lodi in 2002, when it cited six of the employees in his adult stores for not complying with mandatory fingerprinting and background checks. Kruppe accepted a $105,000 settlement with the city in 2003.