Tired of tolerating drug use and disorderly conduct, and finding used syringes and discarded underwear in common areas, business owners aired grievances against Internet cafes Monday at a downtown hair salon that is next door to one.
Scissorhands Salon & Boutique, where they met, is at 1715 20th St., west of Lucky Lady Internet Cafe, where owner Joseph Caputo said in an interview that all he offers is entertainment in a relaxing environment.
Typically, cafe owners say their business is similar to the sweepstakes in the McDonald's restaurant Monopoly game.
But city officials say their establishments are outlets for illegal gambling. The Kern County District Attorney's office is awaiting two appellate court rulings expected in November to strengthen its legal footing, before filing cases against the cafes.
Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell, owner of TL Maxwell's Restaurant and Bar downtown, and Cindy Pollard, president and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, offered two potential solutions to the gathering of more than a dozen officials, business owners and employees.
Pollard suggested that business owners whose livelihoods are threatened by a nuisance business could take its landlord to small claims court, and said she will meet Thursday with City Attorney Ginny Gennaro and Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson to discuss how the chamber might provide monetary assistance.
"We talked about seeing what we might be able to do to pull together some type of legal assistance that business could tap into at relatively low cost, to be able to put the legal process into place," Pollard said, noting that discussions have begun.
Maxwell said he's trying to get a resolution drafted in time for the Bakersfield City Council's Oct. 16 meeting, informing business owners that the City of Bakersfield frowns on Internet cafes and urging them not to rent to a business that might negatively affect another entrepreneur.
"Hopefully, that will have some influence," Maxwell said, noting that the city could potentially be sued for passing such a resolution, but the case "is pretty much thrown out. It's simply an opinion."
Business owner Chuck Naus, of Nature's Food Market & Juice Bar said the city has to meet this challenge head-on.
"We've got to deal with this somehow, some way that's going to bring it to an end right away," said Naus, whose business is in the same building as Scissorhands.
Their landlord, Wes Bradford, did not respond to a request for comment.
Rosco Rolnick, of Guarantee Shoe Center, said his business was south of Cell City Internet cafe, 2109 Chester Ave., until it moved out about two weeks ago.
"The crowd that they cater to is not conducive to the crowd that most other businesses cater to," Rolnick said.
Manjit Singh, owner of Min's Deli, one door north of Cell City, said he was its landlord, and the owners owe him $1,500 back rent, but he's glad they're gone.
"I'm very happy," said Singh, whose deli is downtown, but who didn't attend the meeting. "It's a lot better since they moved from here."
Scissorhands's owner, Lynae Cummings, said coming to work is costing her money because she's had to lower the rent she charges her stylists.
"I've had to come to work on a Saturday and find discarded men's underwear in the bathroom. I've found a syringe and foil in the bathroom," Cummings said. "Whatever will help, we need to do."
The Lucky Lady's owner said he tries to be a good neighbor, and has hired security guards.
But Caputo, 62, confirmed that he's facing misdemeanor charges of burglary and passing a fictitious check, and felony and misdemeanor charges of, respectively, possessing drugs and drug paraphernalia. He says he is eager to prove his innocence during upcoming trials.