BRENTWOOD -- Brentwood is the latest in a string of East County cities to place restrictions on computer gaming and Internet access establishments, following the lead of Antioch, Pittsburg and Oakley.
Antioch, Pittsburg and Oakley have all placed moratoriums on Internet cafes, where patrons purchase online time at computer terminals and often play sweepstakes games for a chance to win cash prizes. The legality of these operations has been fiercely debated and some cities have tried to ban them as illegal gambling operations nationwide, according to Brentwood City Attorney Martin Lysons.
City officials in Brentwood did not see the need for a moratorium at this time because there are no applications to bring an Internet cafe there. Instead, the Brentwood City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday night to place certain regulations on these controversial businesses that have been known to bring increased police calls to the nearby areas.
In East County there are only two Internet cafes, both in Antioch.
"It is a pre-emptive strike to avoid consequences in the future," said Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor after the vote.
Brentwood's new ordinance requires a license, background checks on employees, a permit application process managed by the police chief, limited hours of operation, video monitoring, an alarm system, proper lighting and prohibitions regarding minors, illegal gambling and adult-oriented businesses within these commercial establishments.
Cyber cafe users and owners argue that the sweepstakes games made popular at these sites are considered promotional sweepstakes and legal in California, according to Lysons. Owners also often say that by selling Internet access, they are promoting speech and communication, which are protected by the First Amendment.
Councilman Erick Stonebarger said that Brentwood didn't have a process in place for this type of business, so the ordinance will provide these needed restrictions without the additional action of a moratorium.
"I would have liked to see stronger restrictions in place, but you start to butt up against the gray area of the First Amendment," he said. "We feel comfortable that we have the tools to handle it now."
Reach staff writer Paula King at 925-779-7174 or email@example.com.