Taipei City Government officials made a big deal out of the demolishment of the flashy CA Club Cafe on Wednesday — less than a day after its grand opening gala — on the grounds that it had been illegally constructed on the Breeze Center Mall’s second-floor terrace. However, the story appears to be less about vigilant city officials than about oblivious bureaucrats keeping their heads in the sand until they are forced to take action.
The city’s Construction Management Office said it had received a tipoff on Monday that the cafe had been built illegally. It made a point of saying that its inspectors remained at the mall to ensure the cafe was completely dismantled.
Many media reports about the closure of the cafe focused on Hong Kong entertainer Eric Suen (孫耀威), the most prominent of its investors, whose NT$35 million (US$1.18 million) presumably went down the drain as workers were removing the luxurious accoutrements.
Yet Suen had not been shy about promoting the venture, with an Apple Daily story on Nov. 13 featuring a photograph of him posed on a couch next to a silver coffee table and a large ice bucket filled with bottles of champagne.
The cafe, which had been operating for a few weeks, had also widely promoted its “CA Carnival” with a Belgian DJ on Nov. 1 and the appearance of Grandmaster Flash on Saturday night last week.
While much of the media attention focused on the nightclub operations, the cafe side was open during the day, serving lunch and afternoon teas, all of which was noted on its Facebook page.
So this “illegal” structure had been operating very openly without anyone in city hall appearing to notice. And if the tip was received on Monday, why did city officials allow the grand opening festivities — breathlessly covered by TV and press reporters — to go ahead and wait until the next morning to take action?
The obliviousness of city officials to illegal buildings and structures until someone complains is legendary.
A little over a year ago, New Party Taipei City Councilor Wang Hong-wei (王鴻薇) slammed the city government for ignoring the illegal sale of space in newly built Neihu (內湖) office buildings as residential units. City land use regulations state that buildings in Neihu’s fifth rezoning district cannot be used for residential purposes, but units in eight out of 13 buildings had been sold as luxury apartments.
Department of Urban Development officials promised more inspections and to ask construction firms to offer assurances that their projects would only be used for industrial or business purposes.
Then there is the practice of the city launching a crackdown on illegal rooftop apartments or additions every few years. Rather than rely on aerial photographs to spot such edifices, however, the searches are carried out by street-level inspections, or depend on complaints from the public. This means that tens of thousands of these dinglo remain.
After a deadly nightclub fire in Greater Taichung in March 2011, fire department authorities in Taipei — and elsewhere — found that many of the clubs, KTVs and theaters that they inspected did not meet safety standards. This was despite the wave of MTV and KTV fires in the early 1990s that led to a massive crackdown on entertainment venues.
Taipei City and other municipal authorities apparently prefer to take a reactive stance rather than be proactive about construction and safety standards. So promises of action and public relations stunts like tearing apart the CA Club Cafe should not count for much or be accorded much praise.