Residents of the thriving community of Mount Pleasant are debating whether three restaurants on Mount Pleasant Street may host live music. For years, the establishments—Don Jaime’s, Haydee’s, and Don Juan’s—have been barred from doing so by “voluntary agreements” (VA) that they signed years ago with the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance (MPNA). Now, opposition groups are cropping up to challenge the status quo and unleash bands and dancing on the strip.

The most recent development in this long battle was Feb. 13 hearing of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Below are two contrasting takes on the issue. Who do you agree with?

Dance and Sing All Night!

Mount Pleasant’s neighborhood brawl over live music and dancing took nine hours of the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board’s time last Wednesday. The pro-mariachi forces allied against the anti’s in a fight that has proved to be more about multiculturalism and mutual respect than music.

I live in Mount Pleasant, within spitting distance (or at least loud music distance) of all of the restaurants seeking to bring live music and (horrors!) dancing into their establishments, and I support their cause. I’ve signed the petitions, I’ve attended their events (including a screening of Footloose – remember those other Puritans who frowned on dancing?), and I attended the hearing.

A new neighborhood group called Hear Mt. Pleasant has created a campaign to support three Latino restaurants on Mount Pleasant Street —Don Jaime’s, Haydee’s, and Don Juan’s— in their efforts to overturn the “voluntary agreements” that they claim were not so voluntarily signed. Those agreements ban live music and dancing in the establishments. (Jaime Carrillo claims that the first two pages of the agreement he signed were changed after he signed it to eliminate his edits; Haydee says her English wasn’t good enough when she signed to understand what the agreement said.) Laurie Collins of the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance was the force behind the agreements, and yesterday she continued her crusade against live music and dancing.

All of Mt. Pleasant was recreated inside this sterile, berber-carpeted hearing room last Wednesday. Red T-shirted Hear Mt. Pleasant supporters, Latinas in tight pants, long-haired aging white hippies, sock-footed 20-something activists, clean-cut, tie-wearing professionals, young mothers with babies in slings, middle-aged Latino men talking about their favorite egg dishes (rancheros or divorciados?), and one leopard-print mohawk. And then there’s Collins, who doesn’t even live in Mount Pleasant anymore but still manages to exercise some bizarre tyranny over it, even from across Rock Creek in her new home in Cleveland Park. (How does she do it?)

The lawyers bickered and the witnesses’ voices trembled. Hear Mt. Pleasant attorney Claudia Schlosberg opened by telling the Board, “We are asking you to do one thing this morning and that is to hear Mount Pleasant.” To hear MPNA lawyer Douglas Fierberg tell it, at the time of the drafting of these voluntary agreements, MPNA was the only group working on the issue, challenging “the right of Hispanics to lay in the streets.”

ABC Board commissioner Mitar Gandhi asked almost every Hear Mt. Pleasant witness if they thought the MPNA represented the community, and they all said, resoundingly, no. He told one MPNA witness that they were going to have a hard time convincing him to not allow dancing.

The hearing, scheduled to end at 5:00, went clear until 7:30. In the nine hours of testimony and arguments, the one thing the MPNA and Hear Mount Pleasant could agree on is that music should be allowed back in the neighborhood. But the MPNA insisted that music above the volume of conversation and any dancing whatsoever would instantaneously turn these restaurants into nightclubs (despite the testimony from both restaurant owners—who are also long-time Mount Pleasant residents—that this is not at all what they want; Mr. Carrillo talked about his brightest goal of hiring a jazz ensemble to play during weekend brunches).

Hear Mt. Pleasant has spent the last year educating the neighborhood about the “voluntary agreements,” writing their own agreement based on hundreds of conversations with and feedback from neighbors and business owners, and working with the businesses to address concerns from residents. They have built a broad neighborhood coalition including the Mount Pleasant Advisory Neighborhood Commission, Mount Pleasant Main Street, La Casa Community of Christ, and the Mount Pleasant Business Association. They have gotten 1,600 petition signatures and 200 individual letters supporting the Hear Mt. Pleasant agreement. They have conducted sound studies at each restaurant to analyze how live entertainment would affect noise in the neighborhood and have created individualized sound management plans to make sure neighbors won’t be adversely affected. Hear Mount Pleasant has done its homework and has the support of the community. It’s time for MPNA to step aside and let Hear Mt. Pleasant be heard.

—Tanya Snyder, Mount Pleasant resident

Sing Till 10 p.m. on Weeknights, Midnight on Weekends!

The purpose of the hearing before the ABC Board was to hear testimony regarding two ABC establishments, Don Jaime’s and Haydee’s, on two issues; (1) whether to terminate the voluntary agreements (VA) between these establishments and the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance (MPNA); and (2) to consider allowing something called “Entertainment Endorsement” applications—i.e., to allow live music—for these establishments. MPNA testified in support of live entertainment occurring Tuesday through Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 6 p.m. to midnight with no moving of the tables for dancing and no cover charge. Four other protest groups testified for stricter provisions allowing weekend-only entertainment.

The nine-hour hearing began with witnesses for the licensees who spoke in favor of live entertainment seven days a week until closing hours of between 2 and 3 a.m. Testimony began with a musician claiming that he has never been allowed to play in his neighborhood because culture can only be expressed in alcohol-serving establishments. After eight years of silence, Don Jaime claimed his voluntary agreement was a fraud. Haydee claimed she was forced to sign her voluntary agreement, even though she was under the guidance of her well-known, experienced liquor attorney. Testimony was heard on how a handful of people were going to be the masters of noise control, and how expert collaborators with long-winded solutions were going to fix all the problems of the Mount Pleasant liquor universe. None of this testimony addressed public safety, trash, or outside pedestrian disturbances.

A 1,600-signature blindly-signed petition acknowledging support for a new voluntary agreement was challenged by the ABC Board because the voluntary agreement was never made available for review as the signatures were being collected. Accompanying the petition was a geo-coded map depicting the location of the signers/houses of those who signed in Mount Pleasant, tagged with a statement explaining that these signatories wanted the MPNA voluntary agreements terminated—something that was never revealed on the petition.

The Board heard from many residents who spoke about how for years, MPNA was the only civic group taking a leadership role in the community when everyone else did not—where were these groups over the last decade? We heard from neighbors who expressed real concerns about noise, fights and other issues that pour from the late night bars and how the voluntary agreements have helped improve their quality of life. We heard from the police department, which spoke on how manpower would be strained and public safety would be negatively impacted if our neighborhood had live entertainment—more people, more parking problems, and more public safety issues, trash and noise. We heard from Latino families who are trying to raise their children in our diverse community and who, while supporting live entertainment, oppose restaurants morphing into bars and nightclubs.

But at the end of the day, it isn’t about emotion, passion, or even cultural expression. It is not about what we wear or our livelihood or how many people support one side or the other. Everyone has agreed to have live entertainment—everyone has agreed on the need for a voluntary agreement. The only real issues before the board are how much live entertainment there should be and when it should happen. We do know one thing; it is likely that neither side will be completely happy with the outcome. It is in the hands of the ABC Board. Their decision might change the character of Mount Pleasant forever.

—Laurie Collins, president, Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance