Pendulum deal collapses

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday September 14, 2005
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Bar owner Les Natali. Photo: Rick Gerharter<br><br>
Bar owner Les Natali. Photo: Rick Gerharter

A lawsuit over the sale of the Pendulum bar is headed to court after an earlier announced settlement collapsed this month, with jury selection set to begin Monday, September 19 in San Francisco Superior Court.

At the same time, an administrative law judge with the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control will begin three days of hearings on Tuesday, September 20 on its decision to award the bar's owner a liquor license for the Pendulum, the Castro's only bar with a predominantly African American clientele.

Meanwhile, mediation continues in the Badlands racial and gender discrimination case.

Les Natali, the Castro bar owner found by the city's Human Rights Commission to have engaged in racist business practices, announced in August he had agreed to sell the Pendulum to John MacNeil in order to settle a breach of contract lawsuit over his purchase of the 18th Street bar. MacNeil and his business partner, Gail Irwin, had sued Natali and Rod Kobila, the Pendulum's former owner, saying Kobila reneged on a verbal agreement to sell them the bar after Natali offered more money. Their lawsuit sought $500,000 in damages.

In August, just days prior to the ABC's announcement it could find no reason to revoke Natali's Badlands liquor license and conditionally approved his request to transfer the Pendulum's liquor license into his name, Natali announced he had agreed to sell the bar to MacNeil in order to settle the lawsuit. Less than a week later Natali fired the Pendulum's staff and closed the bar for what was said to be three months of renovations.

The shuttering of the bar led community groups who had been boycotting Badlands to accuse Natali of retaliation and to question if he truly intended to relinquish ownership of the Pendulum. Both Natali and MacNeil had insisted at the time that there was no change to their agreement.

Yet on September 2 during a settlement conference in the case, the two sides failed to finalize their agreement and resolve the lawsuit. On September 6 MacNeil and Irwin filed a demand for a jury trial.

Reached Wednesday, September 14 MacNeil said he could not discuss the case due to the pending trial but did say the two sides were still in talks. He said there was still a slight chance the parties would be able to negotiate a settlement prior to the start of the trial Monday.

"It doesn't seem as though we are going to be able to agree to the conditions we had before. Certainly, there is still a chance of us being able to. I don't know if we will or not," said MacNeil. "I think we have a pretty strong case with the jury."

Neither Natali, who has repeatedly denied the charges against him, nor his attorney returned calls seeking comment by press time. ABC spokesman John Carr said his agency had not received any notification of a change in the license request for the Pendulum and the hearings in the matter would begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday in hearing room 10 at the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board offices, 185 Berry Street in San Francisco. At the close of the hearings Thursday, September 22 the judge has 30 days to issue a decision.

Julius Turman, the attorney for the complainants in the Badlands case, said in light of the lawsuit over the sale of the Pendulum, the ABC should postpone its hearings on the transfer of the bar's liquor license to Natali.

"I hope someone sends a formal request for delay," he said.

As for mediation in the Badlands case, which continued Wednesday September 14 after a daylong meeting on Saturday, September 10, Turman would not comment as talks are ongoing but did say, "right now it seems very positive" that the two sides would come to some resolution.