Ed. Note: An update to this story can be found here.
The City of San Diego has filed a public nuisance lawsuit against the Observatory, a popular music venue in North Park.
The abatement lawsuit comes after years of building violations and, according to the city, nearly 200 calls to police for fights, including one incident in 2017 which nearly resulted in a riot along University Avenue.
“The ongoing criminal and nuisance activity and arrests by police creates a public nuisance as well as the human waste and junk, trash, and debris located on the exterior of the building,” reads the abatement lawsuit filed in state court on July 3.
Conflicts between the club’s owners, the city, as well as neighbors have been raging for years.
The former theater was converted into a music venue in 2014. However, even before opening its doors nearby residents expressed concerns that the club’s owners had violated the permits by removing permanent seating inside. Doing so, they said, prevented them from having to obtain a more expensive and rigorous permitting process.
City inspectors agreed.
Months after opening, in February 2015, police licensing officers issued a Notice of Violation to the Observatory and its owner Thomas Dubar for converting the theater into a "nightclub and bar."
Over the course of the following year, Dubar applied for a new entertainment permit which allowed for live entertainment, alcohol service, and a dance floor.
More than 200 music and comedy acts performed at the North Park venue from late 2015 to July 2017, when an inspector from the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department observed several fire hazards inside the club, including inadequate lighting, lack of electrical outlets, broken exit signs, blocked fire sprinklers, and missing fire extinguishers.
City inspectors then inspected the Observatory and found that the nightclub had built a new bar and restaurant, all of which shared the same bathrooms, thus again violating the permit.
According to the complaint, in November 2017 the City Attorney’s Office ordered the nightclub to close the nightclub and bar. The owners, however, refused and during the following several months continued to operate.
“On or about April 5, 2018, Investigator Valverde attended a concert by O.T. Genasis, Warren G, and Snoop Dogg at the Observatory North Park,” reads the complaint. “She observed a lack of fixed seating, dancing in front of the stage, and the smoking of marijuana. This confirmed that a nightclub and bar use continued to operate at the PROPERTY in violation of local zoning laws.”
But the permit violations were not the only complaints against the Observatory.
According to the lawsuit, San Diego Police responded to 174 calls for service at the venue from January 2015 through May 2019. Most calls, according to the abatement lawsuit, were for disturbing the peace and public drunkenness.
“Community members are also concerned about the loud music that can be heard coming from the Observatory North Park, and report that after concerts it is common for local businesses to find broken bottles, empty alcohol cans, cigarette butts, vomit, and blood near their establishments,” the documents state.
NBC 7 spoke to some nearby residents. Some expressed relief that the city was taking action, others supported the venue.
"I loved the theater and concerts,” said North Park resident Kelly Gregorio. “There are people buzzing by on their scooters, sure you have to be careful at night and it can be a little bit loud."
Others, however, said the nuisance has impacted their lives.
“I came out one morning and my neighbor’s little Palm Tree had been uprooted and thrown on my porch,” said neighbor Julie Boffman.
”Then there was a stabbing or something,” added Boffman. “We heard people screaming and yelling. There were ambulances cops and it really scared us."
The City Attorney’s Office released this statement:
“For too long, Observatory North Park has been a neighborhood nuisance, a fire trap, and a health threat to its customers and the community in which it operates,” City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said. “If its managers don’t start following the law, the party’s over. We will shut them down permanently.”
As for the Observatory's future, the City Attorney's Office added, "The City is requesting a preliminary injunction and permanent injunction prohibiting Defendants from using or maintaining the property in violation of state and local ordinance provisions and as a public nuisance which is a threat the health, safety, and welfare of the public and its occupants and seeks to obtain civil penalties."
The City Attorney also stated the injunction will prohibit "use until all required permits are obtained."
NBC 7's calls to the Observatory were not returned in time for publication.