The City bureaucracy and government mobilize against the Cuckoo’s Nest

On the very same day Cpt. Moody wrote his memorandum, Roeder made a written request to the City Council for the revocation of the Cuckoo’s Nest’s live entertainment permit, thus advocating the original demand of the disgruntled business owners from March 1980.  The police and high-level City management clearly coordinated this maneuver:  there is no way else to explain the rapid escalation of this matter from Det. Bell to Cpt. Moody, from Cpt. Moody to Roeder, and then from Roeder to the City Council.  Accompanying Roeder’s request were all of the documents assembled by Cpt. Moody in his memorandum to Roeder, as well as some correspondence between the City Attorney’s office and local businesses and the Cuckoo’s Nest.  This demonstrates that the police were the primary agents in assembling a case against the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Roeder set a hearing before the City Council for the revocation of the Cuckoo’s Nest’s live entertainment permit for February 17, 1981.

The legal basis for the City’s attack was the “health and safety” provision of the Cuckoo’s Nest’s live entertainment permit.  Specifically, that provision stated the live entertainment permit was subject to the condition:

That the establishment, maintenance, or operation of the use applied for [live entertainment] not, under the circumstances of the particular case, subject to the terms and conditions set forth herein, be detrimental to the health, safety, peace, morals, comfort, and general welfare of persons residing or working in the neighborhood of such proposed use, or be detrimental or injurious to property and improvements in the neighborhood or to the general welfare of this City.

In the “Notice of Hearing” issued to the Cuckoo’s Nest, City Manager Fred Sorsabal argued “that the condition of the permit is not being complied with; rather, it is continually and flagrantly violated.”  Sorsabal distilled the local business owners’ grievances as well as the offenses identified by police into a single issue:  “crowd control,” and more particularly, the Cuckoo’s Nest’s inability to control the punk audience.  Sorsabal’s framing of the issue as one of “crowd control” is significant, because it indicates that the City did not regard the problem as a collection of individual transgressions, but rather a singular threat.  That threat, of course, was punk.  In addition, the “crowd” drew upon suburbanites’ fear of the assembled masses in the single-family islands behind the Orange Curtain.

The February 17, 1981 hearing was public theater, a public performance of social anxieties meant to establish punk rock as something that was “detrimental to the health, safety, morals, comfort, and general welfare” of the City’s residents and businesses.

The hearing was the culmination of the public-private effort to suppress punk in Costa Mesa.  The three forces leading the effort all dutifully played their role at the hearing:  the local business owners, the police, and the City bureaucracy.  Whereas the local business owners were the driving force in mobilizing the City police and bureaucracy against punk at the Cuckoo’s Nest, the City police led the attack at the February 17 hearing.  The City bureaucrats, for their part, orchestrated the entire affair.  Despite its claims to the contrary, the City Council really did put punk rock on trial.  The administrative-judicial proceedings invoked by the City were on the one hand the final stage of a strategy to terminate punk, but on the other were a means to retroactively legitimate the state violence already administered against the punks.  The Establishment’s total condemnation of punk would be complete when the City Council—expressing the will of the citizens of Costa Mesa—passed judgment.

Assistant City Manager Allan Roeder directed the presentation of the City’s case to the City Council.  Roeder’s argument was that the punk nuisance at the Cuckoo’s Nest was a long-festering problem that had become “volatile.”  According to Roeder, a number of considerations strongly weighed in favor of the City Council revoking the Cuckoo’s Nest’s live entertainment permit.  Those factors included: (1) “the safety [of] our officers”; (2) “the safety to those patrons that frequent the Cuckoo’s Nest and other facilities in that area”; (3) “the cost to the general taxpayers”; and (4) “the complaints and continued concern of the property owners and tenants in that area.”

To prove the City’s case, Roeder introduced the reports, evidence, and analysis compiled by Cpt. R.E. Moody and called several police officers as witnesses to testify to the various offenses they encountered while patrolling the Cuckoo’s Nest.  The testimony of the police officers and detectives—Det. Yezbick; Ofcr. Rose; Ofcr. Canington; Ofcr. Taylor; Ofcr. Freeman; Sgt. Bell; Det. Kent; and Cpt. Moody—really added nothing to the previous police reports and analysis, which Cpt. Moody had assembled and were presented to the City Council by Roeder.  At the hearing, police witnesses recited the familiar litany of violations: drug possession and use; underage drinking; public intoxication; drunk driving; vandalism; assaults; public fighting; resisting arrest.  This hackneyed refrain was the City’s narrative of a punk nuisance, a threat to the general welfare of the City.  It was a narrative already well-established in local media.

Sgt. Bell’s testimony at the February 17th hearing, however, was particularly significant.  Sgt. Bell made the case that the individual incidents the other officers spoke to were “typical”:  “[t]hey are things that occur frequently and on a routine basis.”  Sgt. Bell’s opinion was that “[t]he problems at the Cuckoo’s Nest” would “continue.”  Det. Kent—who became obsessed with the Cuckoo’s Nest—made the argument that revoking the Cuckoo’s Nest’s live entertainment permit was a matter of protecting local youth.  The City Council was, as expected, very deferential to the police.  Mayor Schafer, head of the Council, thanked the testifying officers for “representing us so well.”

A few local business owners and citizens testified, but their testimony was not very important.  The business owners’ complaints were already well documented in the materials assembled by police and the Assistant City Manager.  Roach, who was represented by an attorney, was given an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and put on evidence in his defense.  At the request of Roach’s attorney, the City Council reluctantly gave Roach a few days to prepare his case and present evidence to the City Council on February 23, 1981.  Without a doubt, the Cuckoo’s Nest was being railroaded at the February 17th hearing.

After the police and local business owners testified, City Attorney Tom Wood then advised the City Council.  Wood opined that the Cuckoo’s Nest is “not able to control the patrons and other persons attending these events [punk shows] in a manner that would be safe to the other people of the City that happen to be in the area.”  The City Council had three options.  First, the City Council could break for the night and reconvene on February 23rd.  Second, the City Council could revoke the Cuckoo’s Nest’s live entertainment permit, and not give Roach an opportunity to present his defense on February 23rd.  Or third, the City Council could suspend the Cuckoo’s Nest’s live entertainment permit pending the conclusion of the second day of hearing.

The City Council decided to temporarily suspend the Cuckoo’s Nest’s live entertainment permit, pending the outcome of the second part of the hearing.  Of course, the City Council’s actions clearly signaled the ultimate outcome of the proceedings.  The City Council was completely aligned with the police and the local business owners.  Particularly aggressive was Vice Mayor Hall, who had volunteered to ride along with police for three of the five nights of the special enforcement activities in early 1981.  After the presentation of evidence at the February 17 hearing, Vice Mayor Hall commented that, “I think the important thing is, is that the type of entertainment which takes place inside the Cuckoo’s Nest, which I have observed, tends to incite these people to rather violent actions after they leave the area.”  Hall declared that “there is an emergency situation” and “that the operation of live entertainment by the permittee [Cuckoo’s Nest] without adequately controlling and supervising its patrons and premises has created and perpetuates a powder keg that . . . could explode into violence at any moment.”  Echoing these sentiments, Mayor Shafer declared that “I think we are sitting on a timebomb.”

The second installment of the hearing, set for February 23, 1981, was the Cuckoo’s Nest’s opportunity to defend itself and rebut the evidence presented against it.  Originally, the second hearing was scheduled for the Police Department Auditorium.  But because the City expected a large audience of punk rockers, the City changed the hearing location to City Council chambers located at 77 Fair Drive in Costa Mesa, which could accommodate a larger audience.

Roach attempted to mobilize the Cuckoo’s Nest punk rock community in defense of the beleaguered club at the February 23rd hearing.  According to one news article, Roach left a voice recording on the Cuckoo’s Nest voicemail and stated:  “Come and see the trial of punk rock!”  “They’re trying to make punk rock illegal in Costa Mesa—set a national precedent.”  (“Punk rock showdown; Sides rally for Cuckoo’s Nest hearing,” The Register, February 22, 1981.)  In the recorded message, Roach promised that members of Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, and the Adolescents would testify in defense of the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Roach’s call for support was heeded by the Orange County punks, who turned out en mass (it’s unclear if any members of the aforementioned bands testified).  At least one journalist estimated that approximately 350 people attended the second hearing, the vast majority of whom were punks.  Reportedly, Roach was “[c]heered on by a crowd of mostly young people, many dressed in punk style clothing and wearing unusual hair styles.”  (“Mesa punks protest as city pulls permit,” Daily Pilot, February 24, 1981.)

Some punks, as well as Cuckoo’s Nest employees, spoke in defense of the Cuckoo’s Nest.  How exactly the Cuckoo’s Nest’s advocates defended the club and punk is unknown, by and large.  Roach’s business partner, Peter M. Williams, argued that the City was putting punk rock on trial; that not all the problems identified by the police were attributable to the Cuckoo’s Nest; that the Cuckoo’s Nest “was an asset to the City,” because it served the needs of a “cultural group” (i.e., punks).  From newspaper accounts, it appears the Cuckoo’s Nest’s advocates explained that the violence attributed to the punks was in large part caused by “hippies” and the “cowboys” of Zubie’s.  A Los Angeles Times reporter recorded the testimony of one Cuckoo’s Nest security guard who told the City Council that “[a] punk fights fair.  A hippie will come at you with a gun or a knife.”  (“Patrons Protest:  City Revokes Punk Music Club’s Permit,” Los Angeles Times, February 25, 1981.)  John Zubietta and other local business owners were there, however, to dispute such testimony.  Sgt .Bell was also there, once again, to testify against the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Unfortunately, the City did not transcribe the February 23rd hearing, perhaps the ultimate means of silencing the punks.

As was expected, the City Council voted unanimously to revoke the Cuckoo’s Nest’s live entertainment permit at the conclusion of the February 23rd hearing.  The Cuckoo’s Nest would never host another punk show, or at least that’s what the City Council believed.

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