Old Town Temecula's The Bank Restaurant Targeted By City, Owners Say

TEMECULA, CA — A longtime restaurant/bar in Old Town Temecula will likely go out of business if the city decides to uphold a law judge’s decision to revoke the establishment’s conditional use permit to serve booze, offer live entertainment and stay open late.

The owners behind the business — The Bank restaurant at 28645 Old Town Front Street — argue they were targeted by the city because their clientele is mostly Black and Latinx, and because the city wants to roll back Old Town Temecula’s now-popular nightclub scene. Additionally, the owners have documents showing the revocation is based on sloppy recordkeeping at City Hall.

“We’re losing this battle at every turn yet evidence to support [the city’s] claims isn’t there,” said Amanda Lane, who, along with her fiancé, Ryan Parent, are majority owners of The Bank.

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“Due to this situation, The Bank will probably be forced to close,” said Lane, although she vowed to continue fighting what she feels is an injustice toward a small local business.

The next step in the process is a special Temecula City Council meeting slated for 10 a.m. Tuesday. The council will decide whether to uphold, deny or alter a March 1 proposed Planning Commission decision to revoke The Bank’s conditional use permit. Last month’s commission vote followed an earlier proposed decision by Administrative Law Judge Debra D. Nye-Perkins to revoke the permit. Nye-Perkins was hired by the city to review the matter.

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The city would not comment for this article due to ongoing proceedings, but according to city documents used by the Planning Commission to render its decision, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department had reported there were “numerous instances of disturbances, assaults, batteries, public intoxication, and other crimes on The Bank’s premises and in the immediate vicinity of The Bank.”

Lane admits The Bank was cited by the city, but never for anything like the alleged unruliness. Instead, out of the more than 100 city-issued citations that The Bank has received since early 2021, 17 were for having excessive noise, one was for exceeding the establishment’s maximum allowed capacity, and the rest were for staying open “late.”

Lane and Parent worked with the city to address the noise issue, and the business was never cited again for going over capacity. As for the hours, the couple has a paper trail showing that since 2008 the business is permitted to remain open until 2 a.m., with a 1:30 a.m. last call.

After the staying-open-late citations began, Lane tried to untangle the apparent paperwork mess at City Hall. In October 2008, then-Bank-owner Craig Puma received a city-approved minor modification to his 2007 conditional use permit to extend the bar/restaurant’s hours of operation. The green light allowed The Bank to stay open until 2 a.m., with last call at 1:30 a.m.

Craig Puma was no stranger to the city. He was at City Hall on a regular basis and for 11 years served as president of the Old Town Temecula Association. He turned the business over to Lane and Parent in early 2020. Patch reached out to him for comment for this story but did not receive a return call.

According to Parent, the city contacted Puma in 2012 about a piano player who was serenading Bank diners.

“He knew everyone at City Hall and was told he needed an indoor entertainment permit,” Parent said. “The next day, Craig had his permit. It was that fast.”

Patrick Richardson served as Temecula’s director of community development at the time and he ensured the process was smooth, according to Parent, but there was a problem.

“[The city] gave Craig the entertainment permit, but it included copy-and-pasted text from a 2007 CUP,” Parent explained.

That 2007 language included this: Close by 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, 10 p.m. the rest of the week, and 12 a.m. on special holidays like Cinco de Mayo.

Yet for nearly a decade after the 2012 permit was issued, The Bank was never cited for staying open late.

“The city rushed the 2012 permit through as a favor to Craig and never bothered to update the extended hours that were already approved,” Parent said.

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“How does the city cut your hours and then for nine years” — from 2012 until early 2021 — “never cite you for staying open late? Why would a city take away hours and never give a reason or even a warning?” Lane said. “The hours were copied and pasted from an old CUP dating back to 2007 and the city is not admitting it made a mistake.”

When Lane and Parent began receiving citations in 2021, they thought it would be an easy fix. The city would see the 2008 permit for extended hours and everything would get righted.

Emails obtained by Patch show Lane was working with City Hall trying to get to the bottom of the discrepancy. Instead, without any reason, the city maintains in documents that back in 2012 it decided to shorten The Bank’s hours.

In a Feb. 17, 2021, email from Temecula Planning Manager Stuart Fisk to Deputy City Manager Luke Watson, Fisk states The Bank’s hours of operation were the same as those allowed in a 2007 conditional use permit. ” … we did not extend their hours,” Fisk writes to Watson.

For a time, the 2008 permit extending The Bank’s hours went temporarily missing at City Hall; even the fire marshall had no record of it, Lane said.

Changes in Old Town Temecula

Once a sleepy district, over the last 10-plus years Old Town has evolved into a clubbing destination for young adults, including out-of-towners, who enjoy walking from bar to bar for drink, conversation and entertainment. The scene is not unlike others in Southern California — San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, Huntington Beach and Pacific Beach, to name a few.

Temecula tourism officials have, for years, touted the area’s many attractions, including Old Town’s after-hours offerings. As visitors increased, more bars popped up in Old Town.

Lane and Parent are aware of problems in Old Town after dark. Lane said anytime she saw something, she called it into the sheriff’s department. The agency has activated an Old Town Metro Team comprised of deputies who patrol the Old Town area. Lane showed Patch strings of text messages in which she reports problems to the deputies, most of the incidents are off The Bank property.

In November 2021, Lane called 911 to report an off-property shooting. The Bank’s video surveillance footage from that night shows that, prior to the violence, the restaurant’s security personnel declined to let the parties involved enter the establishment, according to Parent.

But it was a fatal 2022 shooting outside The Bank that really fueled allegations about a “criminal element” in Old Town.

A former Bank employee, Desmond Dyas, 28, of Hemet had stopped by the establishment the night of Jan. 9, 2022, and was standing just outside talking with a small group of young men. At least one of those gathered was carrying a concealed weapon, and Dyas ended up shot dead at The Bank’s front steps. Three others were wounded in the melee. In a five-minute video segment captured by a Bank surveillance camera, there was no indication that something was amiss until shots were fired.

During last year’s hearing in front of the law judge, Riverside County Sheriff’s Sgt. Josh Hephner was asked whether The Bank should have done something different the night of the shooting.

“Not specifically, no,” Hephner testified.

To aid the investigation, The Bank provided the sheriff’s department with video footage from all 19 of its security cameras, according to Parent.

“We wanted to help,” he said.

After the shooting, relations between the sheriff’s department and Lane deteriorated, she said.

“I felt betrayed. We were victims too, but we were being cast as attracting a ‘criminal element,'” she said. Some of the Bank’s security guards were being characterized by law enforcement as gang members because they had nicknames, “monikers” in cop-speak, she added.

“None of them,” Lane said, “are gang members.”

During last year’s hearing in front of the law judge, Watson testified that The Bank was “overserving alcohol” to patrons to the point of customers’ “complete inebriation” resulting in disorderly conduct like public “urination, fights and criminal activities.”

When asked by Attorney Thomas Callaway, “What makes you believe that The Bank was engaged in that?” Watson replied, “A long track record of those things taking place in and around The Bank.”

“So if it’s around The Bank, could they have been drinking at another establishment as well?” Callaway asked.

“They could have,” Watson responded.

“In preparing for your testimony today, did you review any police logs or calls for service logs?” Callaway asked.

“No,” Watson said.

“Have you ever reviewed any calls for service logs related to The Bank?” Callaway pressed.

“Nope,” Watson said, explaining that his knowledge of alleged crime at The Bank was reported to him by law enforcement.

“Have you ever witnessed any of it yourself?” Callaway continued.

“No,” Watson said.

For Lane and Parent, the last two years have been difficult. They have seven children between them, ages 10-29, and now the business they took over just weeks before the COVID shutdown is likely doomed. Their once full staff is cut to the bare bones.

A revocation like this one has never happened in Temecula, Parent said.

“The Bank probably won’t survive but I want people to know what happened,” Lane said, “to hear our side of the story.”

Tuesday’s 10 a.m. special City Council meeting takes place at City Hall, 41000 Main Street, and is open to the public. Click here for the full agenda.

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