A trivial pursuit

The city spends too much energy cracking down on musicians?

It wouldn’t be winter masquerading as summer without a flare up in the perennial Midtown neighbors-vs.-bars saga.

BarWest, Sacramento’s preferred destination for flabongos (look it up), recently applied for an entertainment permit. Nearby residents, however, say BarWest’s founders—Trevor Shults, Randy Paragary, other usual suspects—took a blood oath and “promised” to never apply for one when it first opened nearly two years ago.

Now, it’s up to the city to decide whether to trust BarWest, who insists it just needs the permit to bring back a popular trivia night, or the neighbors, who say the bar is up to no good.

This recent drama’s been so time-consuming for BarWest owner Shults that he actually hired a spokeswoman, popular local blogger Natalie Paulsen, to handle all his media calls.

Paulsen repeated BarWest’s claim that the application isn’t about raging parties. “The permit isn’t intended to turn BarWest into some crazy dance club on J Street,” she told SN&R last week, adding that when the city shut down its popular Tuesday trivia night after a year of success, the bar lost $250,000 in annual profits.

Which got me thinking: Trivia nights are a quarter-million-dollar industry?

Paulsen was also quick to point out that BarWest and the adjacent businesses that constitute the Sutter District will fork over $62,000 this year to pay for police services to make the area safer. That’s a good chunk of the district’s budget. But off-duty cops earn upward of $30 an hour sometimes, so 60 grand doesn’t go far.

Residents with the Marshall School/New Era Park Neighborhood Association aren’t buying the explanation. Its members say the bar is an epicenter for extreme drunkenness, fights and other problems—and fear an entertainment permit will exacerbate the shenanigans. They want to see more security, more police and less Wild West.

“Now Trevor Shults [has] gone back on his word,” argued resident Julie Murphy, who added that he “did not offer the common courtesy” of telling neighbors that he was applying for an entertainment permit.

“We could have worked together to find some middle ground on the issue,” she insisted.

Sure, BarWest probably should have explained things to its neighbors before going forward with the application. That was probably the right thing to do. But they’re not required to. And there’s certainly no harm in wanting to host a trivia night—or even a deejay or karaoke night. BarWest should be allowed an entertainment permit.

The real culprit here is, of course, the city:

Why the hell does Sacramento require an entertainment permit to host a trivia night?

For those not up to speed: The city’s entertainment permit isn’t cheap. Businesses must cough up more than $1,800—plus pay for fingerprinting and file an epic five-part application with the city and police departments, etc. A venue like BarWest can obviously afford all this and is willing to pay. Other monied outfits—churches, political fundraising parties, etc.—are exempt from the city permit.

Local musicians, oftentimes broker-than-Jesus yet still hopeful to make this city’s music scene exciting, for years have had a difficult time nurturing a grassroots scene because of the cost-prohibitive permit. Bands moonlighting at a cafe? Better get one. Touring acts stopping by at a warehouse space? Forbidden.

Even venues that can afford the permit sometimes can’t escape its red tape, what with regulations on hours of operation and requirements for costly security officers. Meanwhile, the local trivia-night operator or deejay or band loses out on making money.

This year, will the city—police, rule makers inside City Hall and newbies like Councilman Steve Hansen—spend less time and resources regulating musicians? Or will 2013 be the same ol’ song and dance?