Six public commenters at the recent August 17 City Council meeting said they wanted JP23 Urban Kitchen to be closed or investigated and several others voiced their support of making the safety of downtown a priority.
Samantha Velasquez, who said she was drugged at JP23, asked that the restaurant be closed.“I hope this place gets shut down. There are just too many unsafe issues that are going on. Especially since the college is not too far away from this community. It is just not safe for them.”
Samantha’s mother, Monique Juarez also spoke. “You just heard my daughter speak,” she said. “It is so painful to have to watch your daughter not go outside anymore because she is so scared. Last week when we were protesting, we had three vehicles follow us. They were waiting for us to get into our car. They didn’t eye the [other] protesters, but they eyed me and my daughter. And the reason I know they are from JP23 is because they were wearing JP23 shirts. Thank God the Fullerton Police were there.
“I am not scared to fight for my daughter. I am not scared to speak up. What they did was wrong… I called JP23 to warn them … that my daughter was drugged, taken and raped, and left on the second story floor of a parking structure on her back.
“When I got my daughter, she was bruised all over her back and her knees,” Juarez said through tears and visibly shaking, “The [rape] examination was so painful for her because of the force. I can’t imagine somebody else having to go through that with their daughter. Only to be protesting and her daughter to be called a whore and her mother to be called a bitch. And then we are followed and scared. I am begging you as a mother, please shut this place down. I believe that you will catch whoever did this to my daughter, but please protect everybody else’s [daughters].”
Curtis Milner, who spoke in support of JP23, said, “I have been part of the JP23 family since the beginning. Jake, the owner, has been sponsoring me and my fighting career since I started. I just want to say he is a very upstanding citizen. Him and the bar. We can’t control everybody. We can’t control everybody’s actions. It sucks what happened, but we can’t control everything. I just want to say I am sorry for what happened, but hopefully people who are responsible are brought to justice.”
Addressing speculation that the restaurant has changed owners many times, Jacob Poozhikala said, “I am here as the owner and only owner of JP23. On behalf of all the 30-plus hard-working employees, including cooks, servers, bussers, women, men, gay, people of color, white, we pride ourselves in our diversity. We do not want to see anyone in our community hurt. I wish these allegations had been brought to my attention earlier. We try to put our customers at the highest level in every circumstance. We have a state-of-the-art surveillance system monitoring every inch of our establishment. This is to ensure we protect both our guests and employees.
“We have been a member of this community for almost 10 years. JP23’s priority is the safety and well-being of our community. Fighting, rapes, assaults—these are all detrimental to the success of a business. Our amazing employees are not engaged in these activities. The FPD sent a statement [ABC7 News] saying that to their knowledge there is no drugging and raping at our establishment. If the community feels different, we are here and ready for a dialog. I just want to end the insults and death threats towards the hard-working people of this great establishment,” Poozhikala said.
After the Public Comment section of the meeting concluded, Mayor Whitaker asked Interim City Manager Danley if he had any comments based on the public comments. Danley grinned and said, “No. I had one, but I can’t remember what it is right now.”
Councilmember Jung read a prepared statement: “A brief word about justice to all those in our community who advocate for it this evening. Councilmembers cannot unilaterally discipline businesses or individuals. There is a process that is in place and all those processes are oftentimes imperfect. I urge those who seek justice this evening to continue to fight for transparency and fight for those who cannot. Continue to be the voice for those who cannot be heard because change in all its forms doesn’t happen in real time.”
Councilmember Zahra said, “I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to the young ladies and their families who came and spoke today. It certainly takes a lot of courage to come and share your personal stories and grievances and horrible experiences. Public safety is, in my opinion, the number one job of a government, and we have an obligation to look at our downtown and reanalyze what is going on there. We, as a council, need to make sure that due process happens. I would like to ask if we can bring back to Council a discussion on how to improve safety in our downtown and throughout our city, especially in our bar scene. I think we need to reassess some of these safety standards and make sure we have zero tolerance to situations like this. I don’t believe it is good for business, or for our city, and it certainly is not good for our residents and our visitors.”
Councilmember Silva seconded Zahra’s agenda request to look at safety in downtown and said, “I do want to acknowledge the courage that these young ladies have for showing up here and sharing their trauma and asking for some assistance.”
Councilmember Dunlap did not address city safety issues or public speakers.
Mayor Whitaker said, “It was not that long ago that it was not as common for people to play pressure politics and to have organized protests and to line up dozens sometimes scores of speakers to try to pound and propound the same issue over and over again. I want to let people know that it certainly has always been my tradition to greet and speak with any constituent on any issue and often some of those problems can be resolved without all the clamor, noise, and stretching our Council meetings beyond their normal framework.”