Essence of cosmic: The Cool Juicy Bus battle

Ever been a part of a Cosmic Shift? It’s interesting — kind of a tremor in the universe that shakes things up a little and finally settles out with a happy ending but still leaves you with a bit of confusion as to why it all happened.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Cool Juicy Bus leased a lot on Pioneer Avenue next to the Alaska Wild Berry building. An application was approved. A lease was written and signed. Security deposit and rent were paid. All city permits were approved — even the sign permit. The lease was attached to all the paperwork. The Alaska business license was in place. Kenai Peninsula Borough sales tax in place. The police did background checks and fingerprinted the father and daughter who would be running The Cool Juicy Bus. Everything was approved and in order. June 10 arrives; time to sell organic smoothies.

Not so fast. On June 20, Sage, the daughter, is making smoothies. A Homer police officer pulls in and comes up to talk to her. He tells her someone has filed a complaint against the business. She is surprised and asks who? The officer doesn’t have much information. She asks if she can see the complaint. She asks what she should do. The officer doesn’t really know. She calls her father and tells him.

Scott Wright, the father, calls us. He asks us what he should do. We ask: Did they give her something in writing? No one seems to know what the complaint is, who made the complaint and what the process is. Thinking we will get something in writing that will show us the process, we all assume the problem will be resolved once we find out what the problem is.

The following Tuesday, an officer shows up at the bus and tells Sage to shut down. Now. She is in the process of making a smoothie for a young mother and her child. When told it is a $300 dollar a day fine and possible civil damages, Sage apologizes to her customer and shuts the bus down. The 23-year-old entrepreneur is a little shaken but she holds her own. She calls her dad, he calls us and the Cosmic Shift of Confusion begins. 

We start searching for the solution, but first we need to know what and who the problem is. We know June 12, the city manager wrote an email to the property owner asking if she knew the bus was on the property and letting her know she might not like the look of the bus. On June 17, she wrote back assuring him she had full knowledge of the lease, had seen pictures and loved the red, white and blue vibe of the bus. 

On June 18, after talking to someone at the city who had told them the bus was breaking an ordinance, owners of a nearby restaurant sent an email to the city manager and expressed their concerns regarding The Cool Juicy Bus and quoted city ordinance HCC 8.11.070. These ordinances are not easy to find but they had them right there on the email. The actual complaint form is easy to find, but the city manager rules the email is the formal complaint. 

On June 20, the officer tells the bus about the complaint. On June 24, the bus is shut down. No complaint is shown to them, no due process, no time to defend themselves — just a letter, saying they were to shut down immediately. Sage asks the officer what she should do and he says she might need a lawyer. 

After many emails and many requests we finally get a copy of the email, aka formal complaint. It boiled down to this: HCC 8.11.070 “A mobile food service may not be operated in front of or immediately adjacent to an established business offering the same or similar commodities from a fixed location…”

The fact the businesses are not at all similar has no effect on the Power that Is. A restaurant with a five-page menu selling packaged apple and orange juice and a few smoothies called frozen drinks is judged similar to an organic smoothie and fresh squeezed juice bar. City says case closed.

The lease was for 528 E. Pioneer Ave. The bus was slightly over, a couple of feet, on 512 E. Pioneer Ave. So the bus and sign are moved. No longer immediately adjacent, problem solved. Still, the city will not relent.

We ask how to appeal. No one really knows. First, it is inferred there is no appeal. Only the neighbor removing the complaint can change the closure. After calling professional city code readers, it is determined we could appeal to the Homer City Council. The council meets only twice a month so it would take some time. 

Meanwhile, the season for smoothies is slipping away and the Fourth of July is just around the corner. Kale and other healing vegetables are beginning to rot and have to be thrown away.  

As people hear about it, they voice their opinions on Facebook. It is like a Homer Spring. The  people see nothing similar in the two businesses. One sells food on plates and one sells organic drinks in cups. Finally, the neighbors withdraw their complaint and the rest is history. 

The Cool Juicy Bus is allowed to re-open on June 30. By the time you read this, The Cool Juicy Bus world should be back in harmony.

So why not let it go? Why not let it be?  In true Cosmic Spirit, the two neighbors have. They are good people. They are the Essence of Cosmic. 

But the people of Homer need to know what can happen in our little town when the city decides you are not in compliance. Even when you are in compliance, if they don’t like it, well, things like this happen. It isn’t right. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time. Where the lines are drawn and how you can maneuver those lines needs to be defined. 

Transparency will assure consistency and the Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea can remain Cosmic. As it should be.

Debra Leisek is the owner and broker of Bay Realty, which manages the property where The Cool Juicy Bus is located. She has lived in the Homer area since 1989.