The Media Room says it's being silenced by the city of Pacific Grove.
Thursday, July 22, 1999
At issue is whether The Media Room, a cozy musical hotspot in the basement of P.G''s Grove Building, meets federal requirements for disabled access.
Two consultants hired by the city found the venue is not in compliance with federal law since it "lacked vertical access" for the disabled. In other words, the 18 steep, concrete steps people must descend in order to enter the building do not allow the handicapped easy access to the building.
That''s an answer that doesn''t please Rhett Smith, co-owner of The Media Room, who spent thousands of dollars to create a state-of-the-art recording studio for professional artists. Shortly after the facility opened in July of 1997, Smith began allowing the public to sit in on the sessions for prices that ranged anywhere from $12 to $20 per ticket.
"All of the money goes to the promoter or artist," Smith said in a June interview. "It''s an absolutely commercial service that doesn''t make any money."
But it''s absolutely that service that has made The Media Room such a thorny mess, one that involves differing opinions from even Pacific Grove''s own staff and various city committees and has landed the business a space on the city Planning Commission agenda no less than six times.
"It''s really complex," says Dennis Boehlje, the city''s acting community development director.
In the latest go-round, the Planning Commission agreed July 8 to give Smith another month to review the recommendations contained in the consultants'' reports. The Planning Commission will revisit the issue Aug. 8, and will likely make a recommendation to the City Council as to what should be done with The Media Room, says City Attorney George Thacher. The commission, he says, could recommend the venue''s use permit be revoked or could take other action. The City Council, in turn, will then have its chance to review The Media Room debacle.
Smith, for his part, says it''s the city''s fault he''s in this mess in the first place--never mind that he delayed in submitting required plans to the city, or that the space he now occupies was originally intended as a woodshop and storage area, not a concert venue.
"The problem is this building was built out of compliance with state and federal law using plans approved by the city of Pacific Grove," says Smith, who says disabled patrons are able to enjoy concerts in The Media Room by using a loading ramp that leads into the back of the space.
He maintains the city should never have approved plans for the three-story building at 472 Lighthouse Ave. without requiring it to contain such bedrock amenities for the disabled as an elevator. But since the city did, Smith says neither he nor the building''s owner, C.T.E. Properties, should be responsible for bringing the building up to federal and state standards--a costly venture that could include modifying the ramp at the rear of the basement or other changes.
"When the building was built and completed back in (1996), it''s pretty clear an elevator should have been required in the building," Thacher says. "But for some reason that wasn''t done."
Still, Thacher says, the city is not required to pay for the costs to provide one now. "That''s not the way it works," he says. "That''s something he could always raise, but it''s very unlikely the court would [agree]."
What does have to happen, Thacher says, is for The Media Room to meet minimum standards for accessibility--even though the city''s own chief building inspector told Smith in April the space was in compliance with accessibility standards. The Planning Commission later disagreed with that finding. To settle the issue, the city turned to experts Jonathan Adler of Access Compliance Services and attorney Patricia Barbosa. Both consultants concurred that The Media Room did not meet accessibility requirements.
Boehlje says the city has no desire to put The Media Room out of business, but it does have a responsibility to resolve accessibility issues once they are brought to the city''s attention.
"We''re certainly not trying to close him down," Boehlje says.
In the meantime, Smith says concerts are becoming fewer and far between. Upcoming concerts include Bob Amos on July 28 and Christine Lavin on July 29.
"We''re sort of in a tough spot," Smith says. "We''ve booked far fewer artists over the last three months than we would have planned. We averaged a show a week last year. This year, we''re looking at doing maybe one or two shows at the most a month. That''s our response from not being on solid ground and the city doing what they''re doing."