Concerns sink plans for Modesto bar

Modesto's new entertainment commission skirted its first controversy last week when neighborhood opposition compelled a would-be bar owner to pull his application to hold concerts on McHenry Avenue.

Jeff DeBernardi of Pleasanton bowed to the residents who live behind what used to be Sidelines Pub and Grill in the 2800 block of McHenry and opted not to press his bid to reopen the bar as a venue for live music and comedy.

"We are no longer interested in that site," DeBernardi wrote in an e-mail to the commission. "We want to be at a location where we are welcomed into a neighborhood."

His permit application reflects a change in how Modesto manages its entertainment venues. In the past, bars and clubs generally had to seek the city's permission only if they wanted to allow dancing, and those requests went only to the Police Department.

As of last month, the city began to implement a broader ordinance that requires all entertainment venues to present an application to a seven- member commission to consider the plans, generally focusing on safety.

The commission's work, as DeBernardi discovered, also provides a forum for the public to speak out.

Neighbors who live in apartments and homes west of the shopping center that once was anchored by a Mervyn's and contains the Sidelines building learned someone was trying to open a sports bar at the location. They sent e-mails in protest to the commission.

"We live on Leveland Lane, and don't think this kind of establishment is suited for a residential neighborhood," wrote residents Steffi and Bob Buckmaster, citing unsavory people scurrying up and down the alley behind the bar. They said opening the sports bar would just add to the problem.

Evelyn Finseth said she has lived in the area for more than 20 years and saw a lot of problems coming from Sidelines before it closed. She said opening the sports bar only would resurrect the problems.

"The problems this community encountered in the past are well-documented by the many calls to the police to break up fights, racing cars, drunks wandering on our grounds, etc., which spread our city police resources even thinner," Finseth wrote. "A neighborhood such as this is not the right place for this kind of bar."

Those and other protests to DeBernardi's bid persuaded him to pull out of the Thursday hearing before the commission where he was scheduled to present his plan.

"It's an example of democracy in action," said Chris Ricci, a member of the commission who helped write the ordinance. He is the general manager of the Fat Cat club on 10th Street, and he is the promoter behind the annual X-Clamation Festival. "But it was a little disappointing that the business owner couldn't try to work it out."

Ricci said the permit process is intended to give residents an opportunity to hammer out a compromise with business owners. That didn't happen in this case.

The entertainment commission has a vacancy. It meets on the first and third Thursdays of each month. Call Kathy Espinoza at 571-5597 to apply.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at or 578-2394.