When Damien Collins bought the building that would become StillWater Spirits and Sounds in 2012, he decided to turn the historic '20s building into a prohibition inspired bar. With black and white imagery, hay-hook lights and a forever evolving menu it became one of Dana Point's well known hot spots–and most notably, a mecca for live music and entertainment.
Sitting near the corner of Del Prado Ave. and Golden Lantern St., the venue hosts charity events for Surfer's Healing, Surfrider Fountain and The 5th Marine Regiment. They play an instrumental role in the music community, holding concerts for Los Rios Rock School, Danman's Music School and Kenny's Music Store with over 800 students cumulatively. StillWater is enjoyed by local musicians and music lovers alike. Last April the Dana Point Historical Society nominated StillWater to receive the Historical/Cultural Preservation Award from the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce. Yet on June 25th, 2014 when Collins contacted the district administrator for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) with a request to modify the conditions of operation, he didn't know he would be putting live music as well as the fate of his employees and business in jeopardy.
Their request was to permit the sales, service and consumption of alcoholic beverages from 8:00am to 2:00am seven days a week. As a fall back they requested 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m., seven days a week, on the exterior patio. Their current hours of operation are 8:00 a.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday, and 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
After receiving this inquiry, the ABC sent out a notice to neighbors within a certain proximity of StillWater. This caused much concern for the Lantern Bay Estates, a gated community with 10 homes, sitting adjacent from the patio. Mary Gieslman, who lives in the neighborhood, wrote a letter on behalf of the community to the city manager, chief of police, director of code enforcement, city council members and the ABC explaining that the music, "Wakes the closest neighbors out of a dead sleep" and that, "intoxicated individuals walk down Old Golden Lantern and Golden Lantern yelling and laughing loudly." This letter expressed there was a lack of harmony between the business and community and that this would eventually devalue their homes.
The petition to reject the proposed changes came with 22 signatures, 2 of which have been revoked. Some of those people write that StillWater is a public "nuisance" and that their hours of operation are already "unbelievable." Yet in the community letter, Gieslman wrote, "We are looking forward to the development of the downtown area. We are in favor of a new, thriving business and residential plan." When this reached the ABC the extension for hours was not only in question but so was StillWater's ability to play live music and sell alcohol.
It's important to mention that while the Estates were not in favor of the ABC granting StillWater's request, there were multiple signatures of people who have attended the bar for anniversaries, fathers day and even post photographs via Facebook with their favorite bar tenders and bands.
The city of Dana Point has spent over $9,000,000, and in September was awarded an additional $7,000,000, for building public infrastructure to initiate shops, dining and a lively community atmosphere. The Town Center plan has been in the works for over 10 year's with 30 plus public hearings and thousands of votes in its favor. The goal is to create a vibrant entertainment center for the city of Dana Point and that plan permits businesses' to stay open until 2am and encourages outside dinning. Collins explains this is specifically why StillWater requested new hours of operation.
Since he purchased the space, in 2012, he has removed the outside stage where live music was showcased, at the former Renaissance bar, installed 15' high sound dreading panels on the walls behind the stage, replaced the roof to eliminate upward sound leaking, employed a trained sound tech to adjust sound levels to meet City code, established a policy to keep the double doors closest to the street closed at all times and purchased decibel meters so that security can monitor noise.
While this originally satisfied the ABC, this was not enough to keep them from cutting all entertainment at StillWater come January 19th. This caused Collins to cut 9 jobs and create a petition on change.org. The community responded with 100,00 page views, 50 pages of comments and thousands of signatures in favor of their license being reinstated.
Russ Chilton, Chief of Police Service's for the City of Dana Point wrote, "I believe that the balance of any potential adverse effects is outweighed by the City's policy of encouraging businesses that compliment the City and its needs." An Orange County, local who signed the petition on change.org commented by saying, "We shouldn't let the voice of a select few represent the whole population. This community allowed performances and outside dining long before the naysayers came to town." Doug Chotkevys, City Manager for the City of Dana Point, was also in favor of the hours of operation extending and he wrote, "The requested changes would help to further local development in the area and help the City achieve its overarching goal of having an engaged and cooperative relationship with the local business community."
While the community, at large, supports StillWater's petition to extend hours, the legal discourse was no longer about hours of operation it was about something far more serious, the fate of the establishment. Despite the universal support they received, on February 2nd, StillWater decided it was best to compromise and pull their application for extended hours. The intention was that the ABC would give the green light for live music and most importantly that they'd establish a noise control standard, setting a precedence for the city of Dana Point.
Ursula Luna-Reynosa, Director of Community Development, and Russ Chilton, Chief of Police, sat down with Collins yesterday to establish an economically viable solution, suitable to both the neighborhood, StillWater and the new Town Center plan. Amazingly, the result was that overwhelming demand from the public and support from city council and local authorities means that StillWater is now scheduled to bring back live music by February 13th.
Collins shook his head back and forth, almost in awe of the outcome. "We opened this bar because there was nowhere to go. I didn't want to pay $27 dollars to park at The Ritz and hangout. I realized a lot of people appreciate the music and enjoy themselves here but I never realized how passionate the community would get when that was in jeopardy."
StillWater's request was initiated over six months ago and both the city and the community scream "let them play!" The ABC is a compliant driven agency, they are doing their job by representing the 20 people who are not in favor. But Democracy is not dead, after all, and due to your support StillWater can hire back those they let go and live music will live on.