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For about five years, singer-guitarist Joe Rathburn has played on the outdoor patio at the Tin Fish restaurant and bar at the foot of Fifth Avenue. When nearby Petco Park opened, Padres fans would walk by and see him play original tunes and “tropical rock” covers of Marley, Buffett, and Belafonte.

“Each night, a quarter of [Petco’s] attendance walks by. I estimate 750,000 people see me over the course of the season. I’ve played nearly every home game since 2003.”

But his steady gig ended June 2.

“A couple of weeks ago, somebody from vice showed up and started taking pictures of me playing. I didn’t know he was from the neighborhood code enforcement department. I joked with him that he’d have to send me some photos, and he said, ‘Yeah, all right, sure’ with a smirk on his face. Then he started talking with the owners, and that’s when I knew there was going to be trouble.”

Tin Fish didn’t have a proper license to host outdoor entertainment on its patio.

“Nobody ever com plained, and now this year somebody complained.… I found out it would be at least 12 months before they could possibly get a permit. This falls under the purview of the CCDC [Centre City Development Corporation]. They don’t want anybody in the Gaslamp with an outdoor sidewalk café to have live entertainment. But the Tin Fish’s main patio section is really not a sidewalk café. It’s more like a big patio.…

“I have spent hours speaking with various agencies, including the CCDC and the code enforcement department. They all said, ‘There is nothing we can do’ when we know there is something they can do.… The owners of the Tin Fish talked to the mayor.”

On June 8, Rathburn says he got good news from CCDC junior planner Lorena Cordova.

“She said she had spoken with her supervisor, Brad Richter, and he said that the area we were performing in is not subject to conditions of the neighborhood use permit.”

On June 10, Rathburn says Tin Fish owner Jerry Levy called him with the worst news.

“The cops told them the only way they would grant Tin Fish an entertainment permit is if we took [live music] inside. If you’ve ever been to Tin Fish, you know that is impossible [because of its size].”

On June 11, the situation changed again.

“I called [SDPD] Lt. Kevin Ammon and explained my case all over again. We were at a stalemate. I said, ‘Thank you very much, and we’ll just have to keep trying.’ Then, 20 minutes later he called back and said, ‘What we’re going to do is allow you to play tonight and we’re sending someone down to assess the situation.’ To my surprise, he showed up in person. He talked to the owners. The owners…said he signed off on the issue and I had my job back.”

– Ken Leighton

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