An Orange County Superior Court Judge this week banned dancing at a quintessential Newport Beach restaurant — at least for the time being.
In a preliminary injunction handed down Tuesday, Judge Derek Hunt sided with the city of Newport Beach and barred Woody's Wharf on the Balboa Peninsula from setting up a dance floor or using its patio past 11 p.m.
City officials took the early decision as a sign that Hunt will eventually side with the city, but Woody's co-owner Mark Serventi said he's confident the judge will reverse the injunction when presented with the facts.
"Dancing is something that's taken place at Woody's since 1965," Serventi said. "The day it opened there was dancing. There's been dancing ever since at Woody's."
Whether patrons can cut a rug at the restaurant ended up in court after the City Council denied Woody's the permits needed for dancing and extended hours for an outdoor patio.
After being hit with citations in recent years, Woody's requested the permits. The restaurant's owners previously believed — and still contend — that charging a cover allowed them to operate a dance floor without a permit.
The restaurant won approval for dancing and extended outdoor hours from the Planning Commission in September.
But residents including Councilman Mike Henn, whose district includes the peninsula, complained, They argued that Woody's was affecting neighbors' quality of life by essentially operating as a nightclub.
When Henn appealed the decision to the City Council, the group voted 4-1 in October to deny the permits.
Serventi and his co-owners took the decision to court soon after, arguing that Henn didn't have standing to appeal the decision.
The Planning Commission's original decision should prevail, argued Roger Diamond, an attorney representing the establishment's owners.
"The City Council overturned it in a very weird way," he said.
Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron Harp has called the claims meritless, arguing that case law clearly supports a councilman's ability to call the matter up for review.
Diamond also accused the city of dragging its feet on delivering documents to the court needed to consider the case, but in the meantime, the city's lawyers requested the preliminary injunction.
"They're saying we don't have the proper permit. Well, duh," Diamond said, arguing that Woody's doesn't have the permits because its owners haven't had the opportunity to show they were improperly denied.
In addition to banning dancing, the judge's decision bars Woody's from operating its patio past 11 p.m. and orders the business to abide by Newport's laws and municipal code until Hunt makes a final determination.
"This decision is not only important to the city, but to the surrounding neighbors and businesses as well," Newport Beach Mayor Rush Hill said in a news release. "As a community we enjoy quality restaurants operated by responsible owners and good neighbors. Hopefully Woody's will now return to this operational model as provided in their longstanding zoning approval."
Serventi said he and the other owners appealed the City Council's decision because dancing is critical for business at Woody's.
"The city is coming down on us, and we're fighting back," he said.