By AMY LINDBLOM
About 80 people, including Tuolumne County Sheriff Dick Rogers and county Deputy County Counsel Paul Griebel, packed Angelo's Hall in Columbia last night to talk about problems real or perceived at the Columbia Inn.
Inn owner Richard Lajeunesse, his wife and daughter heard complaints for about 90 minutes from neighbors and fellow Columbia merchants about noise from a live band that practices at the motel and and the growing number of deputies who respond to the noise and other calls at the inn.
Neighbors questioned whether the Columbia Inn, on Parrotts Ferry Road, is still a motel or a public housing project because of the guests who stay there for weeks or months.
And many mentioned the April incident when a crowd cut down the Columbia Frosty sign. Lajeunesse also owns the nearby Frosty building, a Columbia fixture where burgers, fries and shakes have been served up for years.
Lajeunesse, who compared last night's meeting to a "public lynching," said he wants to sell the Frosty building and has a buyer. But in April, the county informed him he had too many signs on the property.
About 10 p.m. on April 8, the sign came down. About a dozen sheriff deputies came to quell a brawl that broke out during the late-night sign removal.
Sheriff Rogers confirmed that his deputies are going to the motel more and more from zero calls in 1999, two in 2000, three in 2001 and 13 in 2002 to 47 so far this year.
Rogers said 24 of those have been about noise from the band the Lajeunesses play in.
"Some of the complaints are valid and some are not. But laws are made to protect the infringement of people's rights," Rogers said. "You do not have the right to play your music too loud."
Nearby resident Mike Keene addressed Lajeunesse about midway through the meeting, after first shaking the tall inn-keeper's hand and introducing himself in a neighborly way.
"Be good neighbors, too. Listen to us when we ask you to turn down the music and keep the cops from coming over all the time," Keene said.