I remember seeing my first hookah at a backyard party in Anaheim with Palestinian friends during my teenage years. When they brought out the shining silver stunner, I wondered if it was some sort of Arabic bong! Party people took sociable tokes of flavored tobacco and the plumes of smoke blown into the night air didn't smell like dank weed.
Hookah lounges came later in life for me, but are becoming increasingly irksome for some of Anaheim's notorious NIMBYs. As a result of their whining, the city is looking to an ordinance that would put a temporary ban on them from opening.
The hullabaloo over hookahs is not new. Word from Little Arabia is that places like Nubia Cafe had been given a hard time already. The issue came to a head when Deluxe Banquet Hall sought to open near Brookhurst Street and Broadway taking over a sizable building that once served Chinese seafood and sat at the entrance of the unofficial ethnic enclave in West Anaheim. The owner envisioned a restaurant serving alcohol with a hookah lounge to round out his business.
Late into a city council meeting last month, residents from a nearby neighborhood aired their complaints of potential smoke and noise nuisances in regards to Deluxe Banquet Hall despite the site being nearly 350 feet away from the nearest home. In a role reversal, the council majority, which frowns upon audience reactions when unfavorable to them, basked in the glory of applause as they responded by seeking to curb the original plans and modify the conditional use permit exploring options such as enclosing the lounge turning it into a hookah hot box.
This time around on Tuesday, the business shrank the size of the proposed lounge in a compromise as the “hot box” option had legality issues. The planning commission's conditions of approval included an occupancy limit of 44 patrons for that section of the establishment. Under such terms, the conditional use permit (CUP) was passed.
Would that suffice to have the smoke blow over? Not for councilwoman Gail Eastman who wanted to look into an emergency ordinance for the next meeting that would in effect place a temporary ban on the opening of new hookah lounges in Anaheim.
This coming from a city that allows Disneyland to explode fireworks overhead at night!
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz