NORFOLK, Va. — A majority of members on Norfolk City Council voted to pull the conditional use permit for California Burrito, following a public hearing Tuesday night.
That permit allowed the business to operate a nightclub, sell alcohol and stay open until 2 a.m.
The restaurant has a nightclub attached to it called The Back. City officials said the business has had several violations for overcrowding. The current permit caps the total occupancy at 49 people. City officials say, at times, occupancy has exceeded more than 100.
"Maintaining a bar room at overcapacity in the back of this restaurant is not consistent with the character of this part of downtown," said Assistant City Attorney Katherine Taylor, who argued that capacity violations will continue if council does not revoke California Burrito's permit.
Earlier Tuesday afternoon, Norfolk residents had split opinions on the future of the restaurant.
Norfolk resident Christopher Jordan asked: “Does the city not like tax revenue?”
Diane McCabe said she hopes city council members can come up with a solution that's fair to everyone.
“I think because of the rise in crime, all ideas need to be explored," McCabe said.
This is the latest in a wider crackdown by city council on downtown bars and restaurants. California Burrito is the fourth downtown-area establishment to lose its permit since September.
“I highly disagree with it. They’re going to put a lot of business owners out of business,” resident Mark Cage said. “Basically, you’re going to lose so much commerce down here anyway. What’s going to bring people down here if you close down all these bars? Not only that, you’re cutting off income for a lot of bartenders who are personal friends of mine.”
Cage said it’s the nightclub’s employees who will be hurt the most if the business loses its permit.
“These people don’t understand how they’re going to impact these people’s pockets. So it’s really unfair,” he added.
"This is a situation where we have seen the owner [Miguel Roldan] knowingly not operate within the bounds," said Assistant City Attorney Taylor.
While city leaders mainly focused their arguments on overcrowding issues Tuesday night, proponents for Roldan and California Burrito said they acknowledge a priority to reduce crime.
"To my knowledge, there have zero complaints or infractions lodged against California Burrito for anything other than capacity issues," said landlord Ted Dey.
Attorney Jon Babineau, who spoke on behalf of Roldan, proposed to cut down hours of operation, stop the sale of alcohol at 10 p.m. and transform it into an upscale Mexican restaurant. Still, council voted to pull the permit.
"They're taking actions that really don't make sense," said Babineau. "How many restaurants do any of us know that are surviving don't serve any alcohol? That's just the reality of life. So, essentially, they put [Roldan] out of business."
Babineau told 13News Now about 20 people will lose their jobs. A decision on whether legal action follows is pending.
"Closing down California Burrito -- has that made Downtown Norfolk safer? Absolutely not," Babineau argued.
In September, Downtown Norfolk businesses Legacy Restaurant & Lounge and Scotty Quixx had their conditional use permits taken away by council members, amid heightened concerns over safety in the area. Culture Lounge & Restaurant had its restaurant license taken away.
Another resident, Kiara Davis, said the city and business owners should work together on keeping downtown safer and keeping businesses open.
“I think it’s a bad idea. I think it makes it hard for people to want to come to the city to do business. And I think it sends a message that sometimes, if you are in violation, it’s an automatic shut down, instead of, Let’s come and have a meeting of the minds,'" Davis said.
“Shootings happen everywhere, so I don’t necessarily think that’s the right approach to cut back on crime. I think it’s more really involving the citizens and the business owners in coming to an agreement where they can put an agreement in place to cut back on crime.”
A business right across from California Burrito has evaded reprimand from the city. A March shooting outside Chicho's Pizza Backstage left three dead and two hurt.
Police said the situation stemmed from an argument inside over a spilled drink.
A city spokesman sent 13News Now the following statement, explaining that investigations have not pointed to any violation on the part of Chicho's:
"As part of Norfolk’s new Business Compliance Unit, City Zoning staff continues to review restaurants within the city for compliance with applicable regulations. To date, city staff and law enforcement have investigated Chicho’s and have not uncovered evidence of any violation of the requirements outlined its conditional use permit. There is likewise no evidence to date suggesting Chico’s practices contributed to the violence that occurred outside of the business on March 19, 2022."