Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – On Feb. 20, 2019, American Legion Arcata Post 274 applied for a state liquor license for its downstairs canteen/bar. The application was quickly protested by residents in the area of the Arcata Veterans Memorial Building, so a hold was placed on the app as a hearing was set.
That hearing took place January 30 in Eureka, and a decision by an administrative law judge is expected within 30 days. Meanwhile, the Vets Hall has no standing liquor license, and must obtain one-day licenses for public alcohol service.
Legion Post 274 Commander Jeff Sterling has said that rental regulations have been severely tightened after abuses by past hall renters. He's lamented that pre-clampdown incidents continue to be cited as problems, which he said have been effectively dealt with.
At its tumultuous February 7 meeting, any remaining neighbor problems were cast as minimal and easily resolved by the hall's bar manager. Legion officers seemed confident of license approval.
That was before a number of other hall issues came to light – failures to undergo health inspections and obtain required food service permits, plus several other regulatory lapses. The latest revelation was the hall's patchy record of obtaining one-day liquor licenses, even as the hall continued to host the public at events where alcohol was served.
Tuesday, the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) released redacted versions of the complaints lodged by neighbors regarding the canteen (see below). As might be expected, they revolve mostly around noise and parking impacts, as well as overall quality of life in the neighborhood.
Noise complaints involve loud music in the hall's two big gathering rooms, upstairs and downstairs; the noise made by people coming, going and congregating outside; and the inevitable slamming of car doors. Some neighbors wanted bar hours limited to minimize impacts.
Several stressed that the area of 14th and J streets is a residential area, one which has suffered in the past from alcohol-fueled noise during poorly monitored Vets Hall events. Stated next-door neighbor Grant Lindemann, "the current management of the American Legion Post 274 does not have the best track record in managing noise and other nuisance issues."
Continued Lindemann, "Whenever I complain, Mr. Sterling always appears sympathetic, but the problems continue."
Lindemann said the character of the neighborhood is very different today than when the first liquor license was issued in 1948. "The neighborhood has changed and the veterans building needs to change with it, and not stay locked in the booze-fueled past," he wrote.
Neighbors were also concerned an influx of cars at hall events. "There is no parking; it's all on-street and very limited," said Carolyn Lehman. "Please help us preserve the quiet and safe nature of our neighborhood."
Some saw problems with the canteen's close proximity to Stewart Park, which contains a playground, and Arcata High School. "We don't need more alcohol in the neighborhood, we need good neighbors!" said resident Mark Colwell.
Neighbor Danise Tomlin was OK with alcohol being served at special events like parties, weddings and other gatherings, but she opposed a full-on bar operating in the neighborhood. She and others also noted increased bar-related smoking, with the fumes wafting about the neighborhood.
Resident Steve McHaney lauded the hall's community-building projects, including litter pickup events and the Fall Harvest Feast. He called on ABC to find balance in allowing the vets to serve alcohol at special events, but with limits that protect the neighborhood.
"We applaud the positive community work of the veterans and we want to support their efforts," McHaney wrote. "We do not want to see the positive work of the veterans marred by unintended impacts on a generally quiet residential neighborhood."
A 27-page gallery of the complaints submitted to ABC: