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Observatory North Park called public nuisance for noise, drunken patrons, fire hazards

The Observatory North Park hosted a 2016 concert by Grammy-nominated San Diego singer Andra Day. The venue has been bought by Live Nation, the world’s biggest concert production company.
File art of The Observatory North Park, which the San Diego City Attorney’s Office says has been operating illegally without proper permits and is a public nuisance.
(Photo by David Brooks / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Management says it has worked to resolve the issues with the venue and reached a settlement agreement

A popular North Park live music venue, hit with a recent complaint from the city of San Diego alleging its chronic noise, violence, underage drinking and filth constitute a public nuisance, appears on the brink of a settlement to solve the issues.

The Observatory North Park on University Avenue at 28th Street was a growing source of neighborhood complaints, with San Diego police showing up to 174 calls for service there in four years spanning January 2015 to May 2019, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

Police have arrested drunk patrons for fighting with security, urinating outdoors and a DUI crash when leaving the venue, which has a bar and is attached to a restaurant. The Observatory also failed to hire properly licensed security guards and bartenders over-sold alcohol to intoxicated customers, the complaint alleges.

“For too long, Observatory North Park has been a neighborhood nuisance, a fire trap, and a health threat to its customers and the community in which it operates,” City Attorney Mara Elliott said in a statement issued Wednesday. “If its managers don’t start following the law, the party’s over. We will shut them down permanently.”

Property owner Northpark SD, SD Observatory and managing partner Thomas Courtney Dubar are named as defendants in the complaint. Attempts to reach Dubar by phone early Wednesday evening were unsuccessful.

However, a spokesman for a firm called California Strategies said Thursday that it has worked to resolve the city’s issues with Observatory North Park and has reached a settlement agreement that needs only a judge’s signature to be complete.

Paris Landen, the venue’s general manager, released a statement Thursday.

“The North Park Observatory was surprised and disappointed to see news stories posted yesterday, stating that the City of San Diego was taking legal action against the theater,” the statement read. “Since 2017, the Observatory has been working with the City to address its various concerns. A few weeks ago, the City and the Observatory entered into an agreement that was filed with the court, alongside the City’s complaint. The agreement cannot be publicly released until the judge signs it, but it acknowledges the cooperation between the parties.

“The theater is pleased with the terms of the agreement with the City Attorney’s Office and is happy to be a vibrant part of the North Park community.”

The City Attorney’s Office agreed that a solution is in the works. The office issued a statement saying, in part, “We are hopeful that within a week we can announce a settlement agreement that will detail the neighborhood use, building and electrical permits that must be obtained.”

The statement from the city adds that the agreement will include the terms and conditions under which Observatory North Park will operate legally.

Prosecutors filed the lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court on July 3, seeking an injunction that would bar the defendants from maintaining a property in violation of state and local public safety, health and welfare ordinances.

The complaint says Observatory North Park shares its building with West Coast Taverns. The site was a theater before the “illegal maintenance” of a nightclub and bar, the complaint said.

The city alleges Dubar did not obtain an entertainment permit, required when the property use changed from a theater with fixed seating to a nightclub. When issued a notice of violation in 2015, Dubar got the proper permit in 2016. Permits were renewed the next year. That year, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department issued fire hazard violation notices. More violations were found in subsequent inspections through 2017 and 2018, the complaint says.

Violations included extension cords used where permanent wiring was required, blocked fire sprinklers and a lack of fire extinguishers and illuminated exit signs, as well as building modifications and plumbing changes without permits and accumulations of human waste and trash outside.

A concert at the Observatory North Park was suddenly canceled after a hip-hop performer was hit and knocked out on stage. This prompted a large police response as hundreds of concertgoers left the venue.

The Observatory made national headlines in June 2017 when then-teenage rapper XXXTentacion was assaulted and knocked out in the middle of his performance at the 1,100-capacity North Park venue. The assault appeared to be the result of a feud XXXTentacion had at the time with San Diego rapper Rob Stone, although Stone was not the assailant, according to multiple reports.

The onstage attack of XXXTentacion — who was fatally shot in Florida in June 2018 — sparked an onstage brawl between some attendees and Observatory security guards. A 19-year-old man was subsequently hospitalized, according to news reports at the time, with a wound that was not life-threatening.

The spokesman from California Strategies, Ben Haddad, said in an email that management at the Observatory has since “beefed up security and enhanced maintenance,” particularly on the exterior of the building to keep the grounds clean. He said the venue’s management is in the final stages of gaining all city permits needed to bring the theater into compliance with the municipal code.

He said there are no outstanding fire code violations.

The Observatory staged 200 shows in 2018 alone. It has presented such established rock acts as Queens of the Stone Age, Los Lobos and Arctic Monkeys, along with such rising talents as Phoebe Bridgers and Greta Van Fleet, whose sold-out 2018 show there grossed $43,450 in ticket sales.

Observatory North Park was built in 1928 as the 731-seat North Park Theater and hosted live performances and movies. Lyric Opera San Diego owned and operated the historic venue from 2005, when it reopened after extensive rebuilding. In 2011, Lyric declared bankruptcy and ceased its programming.

Updates:
3:29 PM, Jul. 11, 2019: This story has been updated to include a response from a firm representing Observatory North Park.