Feud on Park Avenue
Chico man takes on his neighborhood bar over alleged noise complaints
For the past two years, the corner of 16th Street and Park Avenue has been ground zero in a battle between a man who has filed more than 160 noise complaints and a bar owner who claims those efforts are tantamount to harassment.
On one side of the issue—and the street—is Bill Shelton, a local historian, antiques dealer and retired Butte County Jail guard. On the other is the Maltese Bar and Tap Room, owned since April 2010 by Angela Lombardi.
Shelton charges that noise and related problems from the bar have caused him sleepless nights and damage to his home. He further says that rising noise levels incite other crimes—even murder.
“I live behind locked gates now because the neighborhood has gotten so bad,” said Shelton, who owns and occupies the historic Bruce/Post Home, a three-story house built in 1906. “Over the years there’ve been four murders in or related to that bar, and if things keep going as they are there’s going to be another one.”
The murders Shelton attributes to the bar happened decades ago, before the building was known as the Maltese; it has been a bar—formerly known as the Pastime Pub and 99 Club—since the 1950s. When asked to explain the statement, and its relevance to the present day, he said, “Every one of those crimes was because of hype and noise that elevated people to do things.
“It starts with a crack in the sidewalk or a broken window, and if you let it go untended it becomes a slum. In every area, noise that has gone untended has bred other things. In law enforcement, you learn that.”
Shelton says he’s not alone in his battle: “I have a petition of over 200 names of people who hate that bar because of the noise,” he said. He also claims Alcoholic Beverage Control has the bar “in its sights” and has an impending 72-hour shutdown order against the Maltese. Shelton says he’s not at liberty to share the petition or other documentation, but that the Chico Police Department and ABC’s Redding office can substantiate his claims.
The Maltese-Shelton feud is indeed well known to police and many in the community. At a Feb. 22 informational meeting about proposed changes to the city’s noise ordinance, a woman brought up the situation as an example of people making unfair noise complaints. Chico Police Lt. Linda Dye said police were aware of it and do not support the man’s campaign against the Maltese.
In an Aug. 15 phone interview, Dye said she had spoken with officials at ABC earlier that morning, and they informed her there is no pending action against the bar. She also said the Maltese is zoned for commercial use, and therefore a non-issue in the ongoing noise-ordinance debate, which affects residential disputes.
“I feel like, as a business owner, I don’t have any protection from this guy,” said the Maltese’s owner, Angela Lombardi. “We’ve had to change our entire business plan to appease one person.”
She explains she relocated from Washington, D.C. (where she still lives and works part time) and bought the Maltese to be a full-time music venue. The community’s support of arts and music was her initial attraction to Chico, she says. However, due to the ongoing complaints, the bar has had to limit its performers to mostly acoustic acts, which she says has hurt her business.
Lombardi first heard rumors of a problematic neighbor as the sale of the bar was being finalized, and she received the first of many threatening messages from the man she alleges has openly stated his desire to “see the Maltese bulldozed.”
“I took the initiative to go introduce myself, let him know who I am and give him access to me to avoid any of the problems the previous owners were having. I have nothing to hide … we run a super chill, low-maintenance, low-issue bar.”
Lombardi and Shelton had a series of lunch meetings to negotiate an agreement. She says she offered to install double-paned windows throughout his house, which he rejected. A number of uneasy and short-lived peaces have been established the past two years, Lombardi said, with the bar conceding to limit events and take other measures to decrease noise. The complaints always start again.
“There’s been nights when the doorman has watched him walk out, get in his car and drive away, and then file complaints when he’s not even home, and on nights when we don’t have any music at all,” she said.
Shelton has a different take on his interactions with Lombardi, stating he has “no respect for that woman.” He said he did have lunch with her a few times, but denies she made any offers to improve his home or compromise, claiming instead she was hostile.
“She told me she was going to have music 24/7 and ‘F’ me, she didn’t care,” he said.
“When we got back to the house [after a lunch meeting], she dropped me off, handed me a bag and said she’d bought me a present. It was earplugs, and she said, ‘Live with it.’ That was her parting message to me.”
Shelton contends that Lombardi responded to his complaints by starting a “turf war,” slandering him and inciting her customers to damage his property (he charged a large front window was broken and his front fence damaged three times).
Lombardi says Shelton has distributed at least one flier citing the historical murders and number of complaints to label the bar a nuisance.
“It was so insane that I think most rational people wouldn’t take it seriously, but it was definitely done with the intent of hurting the business,” she said.
Shelton denies distributing the fliers and, responding to a copy of one provided by Maltese staff, saying it was his handwriting but that he didn’t write it, as he was not a part of the organization that signed it (the “S/W Normal Street Neighborhood Watch”).
He says noise was his concern above all other issues. When asked if he thought 161 noise complaints was excessive, he said: “Not at all, because it’s working,” noting that DJs and live music have largely quieted, but noise from the patio is still unbearable. He complained most recently on Aug. 5. Only one written warning—on the bar’s opening weekend—has been issued, and the Maltese has never been cited.
“There have been times we responded and noise was audible across the street, and there’ve been times that we haven’t heard anything,” said Chico Police Sgt. Rob Merrifield, noting police are obligated to respond to every complaint.
“I don’t believe we’ve had any problems there in terms of calls for service or any crime at that location,” he said. Merrifield says he hasn’t checked the Maltese issue for some time, but acknowledges that all or an overwhelming majority of complaints against the bar have come from Shelton. “Other than the noise complaints, there’ve been no issues.”