Photo by James BunoanWhen we woke up from New Year's in January 2003, we had no Koo's, and the all-ages options for teens from Long Beach to Dana Point were painfully poorer for it. And when we wake up from New Year's in 2004, we might suddenly find ourselves Koo's-less yet again. If the perpetually beleaguered all-ages art space doesn't muster a strong show of community support, its permit for live entertainment may be denied on Jan. 6, plunging Orange County and Long Beach back into kid-unfriendly silence.
At stake—as usual—is the status of Koo's live-entertainment legality. Since October, Koo's has been booking music on a provisional basis without incident, but some illegal dancing on Halloween—a last-minute paperwork revocation left the space with no choice but to let dancers take the law into their own hands (or feet)—led the city to try to cancel that provisional permit in late November. After three days of negotiation, says Koo's coordinator Dennis Lluy, the city settled and allowed Koo's to continue unhassled with its schedule of events—until Jan. 6, when it's decision time.
"I think the issue is that [Long Beach] needs to decide what's going to happen with this arts district," says Lluy, who has fought this fight in Santa Ana and sounds tired but ready to fight again. "Is this going to be a suburban sort of existence or is this going to be a downtown? Is the city going to move forward to the next step?"
Never supportive, the Santa Ana Police Department told Long Beach PD that, while in Santa Ana, Koo's attracted drugs and underage drinking. "The problems we had were very minimal," says Lluy, pointing to a single drug-related ticket issued over eight years. That, coupled with the Halloween dancing, led LB police to recommend that city officials deny Koo's permanent entertainment license Jan. 6. Lluy says there's never been a problem during the few months the new Long Beach location has been open, but that the all-ages art, music, film and theater space is developing a reputation as just another nightclub.
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"Music is a big focus," says Lluy. "We've never been hiding that. But we focus on all aspects: music, art, soon-to-be film, and we just finished a month run of a Christmas play. And we've got art classes and performance-art workshops planned for a month's time."
Koo's is an alcohol- and drug-free, all-ages, volunteer-run co-op that consistently keeps door prices low, delivering entertainment and—more importantly—creative opportunity to a community of artists that, in some small ways, reaches across the nation. It could be the cornerstone of Long Beach's nascent East Village Arts District, or it could be one of Long Beach's most wasted opportunities. The correct choice is the former, and that's why Lluy is calling on Koo's supporters to put some bodies in the streets—or the city council chamber, anyway. Those who can't attend the hearing in person can contact Councilman Dan Baker by fax, phone or e-mail.
"We do have a strong impact in our community, and anything with an impact attracts people who support it and people who oppose it," says Lluy. "With change always comes opposition."
Koo's entertainment license hearing will be held at Long Beach City Hall, 333 W. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Tues., 5 p.m. Reach Councilman Dan Baker at 333 W. Ocean Blvd., 14th Floor, Long Beach, CA 90802, or 2132 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, CA 90814. Phone (562) 570-6684 or (562) 570-1812; fax (562) 570-6882 or (562) 570-1814.