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Venice Update

News of Venice, CA and Marina del Rey CA

320 Sunset to be Appealed

320 sunset (3

The appeal for 320 Sunset will be heard Wednesday, 21 October, 4:30 pm by the West LA Area Planning Commission, 11214 West Exposition Blvd, LA 90064.

The hearing involves the zoning administrator’s decision to approve a change of use of a tenant space from a 4116 net square-foot bakery with 559 net square feet of retail floor area to a 4675 square-foot sit-down restaurant with a maximum service floor area of 717 square feet and 559 square feet of retail space loczated in the signle permit jurisdiction area of the coastal zone; a condition use authorizing the sale and dispensing of a full line of alcoholic beverages for onsite consumption in a proposed restaurant in M1-1-0 zone; and change of use from baker and retail use to a sit-down restaurant and retail use with an approved service floor area not to exceed 717 square feet (contained within the restaurant’s interior and the new outdoor dining area).

Appellants are James Murez, Ilana Marosi, Adam Vagley, Roxanne Brown, Heather Priest, Hubert Hodgin, Carmine Gangemi, Liesbet Koromzay, Heather Thomason, Patricia Delaere, Zach Galafianakis, and Arthur Athas.

259 Hampton Appeal Hearing Play by Play

259 Hampton
Sauce at 259 Hampton.

This project was approved by planning and was appealed by Ilana Marosi as an unfit project for Venice. Marosi did her homework, garnered a group of residents within 500 feet of project, added concerned residents of 320 Sunset and residents affected by 600 Mildred (Kim’s Market), and presented her case. She had crime statistics, alcohol licensing data, and photos of how store was operating as a restaurant with only an approved take-out use. She had maps showing social services within area and schools.

This is a classic case of how to win against the odds. Marosi’s appeal was upheld and decision was unanimous last week. And yes, we all know that even with the best of facts, laws with us, etc., we sometimes lose.

Venice Update does a “hats off” to this group of concerned citizens who took their precious time to make Venice a better, more lawful place. Roxanne Brown does a superb job of reporting this incident.

“HOW DID THEY APROVE THIS?”
By Roxanne Brown

OVERVIEW
Sauce inside
Operating as restaurant with tables inside.

Sauce patio
Operating with patio service.

Here is what I mean. 259 Hampton, currently called Sauce, has a permit for retail/take out, but has been operating as a sit down restaurant (with tables inside and outside on the sidewalk) for five years. Without going through Venice’s Land Use and Planning Committee (LUPC) and the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC), the city approved “change of use” to a restaurant with liquor license and roof top deck, even though it is a mere 15 feet from residents’ homes, on a block with churches, day care and a synagogue – and provides no parking.

Sitting behind me at the hearing, all together in a row, were Stephen Vitalich (architect for 259 Hampton, 320 Sunset’s Gjusta, and 600 Mildred’s Kim’s Market), Sam Marshall (architect for 259), and Fran Camaj (owner of Gjelina, GTA, Gjusta at 320 Sunset, and 1301 & 1305 Abbot Kinney).

Sitting near me in the front row were Ilana Marosi, the appellant, and Robin Rudisill, chair of Venice Land Use and Planning committee, along with residents owning properties and living within 500 feet of 259 Hampton. These residents say they were unaware of this project until Marosi informed them of the appeal. Members of Concerned Neighbors of 320 Sunset and Stop 600 Mildred (both similar problematic projects) were also in attendance.

EVENTS PRIOR TO HEARING
Group
Prior to 259’s appeal being heard, Chris Robertson, director of Land Use and Planning in Councilman Bonin’s office asked Marosi to step out of the hearing room and meet with representatives from City Planning, Kevin Jones (who replaced Greg Shoop), Zoning Department’s Theodore Irving, and 259’s architects, Stephen Vitalich and Sam Marshall. Two other people, not shown, were also there. It was a male and female who refused to give their names, but later identified themselves to me as the owners of 259 Hampton.

Marosi said she felt she was being coerced by this group of seven people as they attempted to convince her to delay the hearing, arguing that they had just discovered there were two different sets of plans approved for 259 Hampton.

Marosi declined delaying, as she thought the city already knew about the discrepancy in plans. After all, she knew, so how is it they didn’t? Marosi asked Robertson about this. Robertson reluctantly admitted that she had reached out to city planners eight days ago [to discuss the issue], but had heard nothing in response.

HEARING – COMMISIONERS and CITY DISCUSSION
There were four representatives from the city. In addition to Jones and Irving, Senior City Planner, Shanna Bonstin was there, along with Katherine Phelan, Deputy City Attorney.

The Appeal Hearing began with Jones from city planning stating, “…planning department recommends that you deny the appeal…sustain the determination.” Irving confirmed that this was also zoning’s stance. City planning and zoning urged the commission to delay the hearing for two weeks so that they could get the plans in order.

President of the Area Planning Commission, Thomas Donovan, said that since the appellant and residents had already waited [nearly four hours] to be heard, the commission would hear the case. Venice residents at the hearing welcomed his strong stand.

In addition to President Donovan, the Commission consisted of Commission Vice President, Joseph Halper, and three Commissioners: Esther Margulies, Marian Merritt, and Lisa Waltz Morocco.

Commissioner Morocco began with the fact that 259 Hampton is in a county tract allowing 2 on sale [alcohol licenses] plus 2 off sale (total of 4) and there are currently 12 on sale and 3 off site (total of 15). She further noted an LAPD report showed there were 539 crimes in the area – four times the citywide average. She had a copy of the LAPD’s letter (evidence provided by the appellant) stating that the LAPD wanted no more liquor licenses in the area. She asked, “How could the city approve this?”

Irving replied, “It’s a tourist attraction, not a typical neighborhood, being a destination place. This is why ZA [Zoning Administration] approved CUB [Conditional Permit – Beverage] and we still stand by that approval.” Here I must tell those of you who were not there, “tourist destination” was an answer oft repeated by Irving. If you’ve seen Saturday Night Live’s “cheeseburger, cheeseburger” skit, you get the idea.

Commissioner Margulies, who happens to be a resident of Venice, stated, “One person’s tourist attraction is another person’s neighborhood.” Margulies also asked, “How can you call for noise mitigation and then say it’s only required if it’s feasible?” The city’s response was convoluted.

Commission President Donovan asked why the CUB was for five years as opposed to the normal two years. Irving answered, “We don’t want to be punitive at this stage.”

APPEAL HEARING – APPLICANT
Vitalich was given the first opportunity to speak and stated that the, “Appeal should be denied as the planning department recommended.” Vitalich then said the wait had been so long that the applicant had left and the hearing should be delayed.

Vitalich began to present the project, when his colleague Sam Marshall walked up to the microphone, interrupted Vitalich and said, “The planning department, zoning department and council’s office took us outside, told us that this would be continued. As a result, the applicant has left along with a lot of people that were going to be here. We just want this on the record. We were told this was not going to be happening this evening.”

Irving looked at Commission President Donovan and said, “You already started this process. You’re more than welcome to continue it.” A bit later, Irving interjected that city planning and zoning do not have the authority to stop the hearing.

Vitalich went on to address noise mitigation, saying he had submitted a 12-page report done by an audio expert. Unfortunately, the commissioners hadn’t been given this report in their case review paperwork. Nor was it in the case files when Marosi twice reviewed them prior to the hearing.

Vitalich addressed parking by saying that the applicant was agreeable to valet parking and taking advantage of beach parking at the end of Rose Avenue, which is ½ mile away. Commission Vice President Halper said, “Excuse me, I don’t believe you legally can do that. I don’t believe the Coastal Commission would approve the use of beach parking.”

APPEAL HEARING – APPELLANT
Marosi addressed residents’ concerns. The retail/take out at 259 Hampton, Sauce, is already operating illegally as a restaurant. Concerns with change of use include: increased noise, traffic, congestion, lack of parking, near a beach access route, too close to residents’ homes, daycare, schools, synagogues, and over concentration of alcohol licenses.

APPEAL HEARING – RESIDENTS
It was now residents’ turn to speak and testify. Here are some highlights.

James McCullogh, a sound engineer who has worked with Katie Perry and a long list of celebrities, testified that even if 259 Hampton were enclosed (proposal is for open rooftop deck), residents would at best have a 50% increase in ambient noise level. He went on to say, “It’s hard to grasp the concept of good neighbor – what use are conditions (going to provide) when the applicant has been illegally operating for five years. This doesn’t give any substance to laws.”

Noel Gould, a recording engineer with an impressive resume,testified that sound gets out through windows and open doors, and it bounces around – it echoes, echoes, echoes. Plus, he said sound travels higher and wider at night due to the inversion layer and can also do so during the day with dense cloud cover. Gould testified that people for blocks around would be hearing the noise from 259 Hampton.

Gabriel Ruspini, a VNC LUPC member, speaking here as a concerned resident – pondered out loud, “How a private project could be approved when it encroached on the public right of away.” In plans/renderings, it seems the rooftop deck hangs over public right of way. Currently, 259’s restaurant tables on the sidewalk block public right of way.

Brad Looney, a surfer who manages 236 Hampton and was there to represent 12 units, testified that he is seeing waste being dumped down the alley between 259 Hampton and residential units along that alley. Since 259 doesn’t have a permit for restaurant, they also don’t have the required dumpsters and methods of disposal for toxic products. Every night Brad watches 259’s personnel pour liquid down the alley. “It runs down the gutter and into the ocean.”

Sarah Shoup stated, “Building and Safety knew 259 was operating illegally and didn’t enforce it. We can’t let 259 change of use happen, because the city can’t control conditions.”

Robin Rudisill, LUPC Chair, there as a concerned resident asked, “Why is city planning putting such projects forward? Why does the city reward illegal operations – no violations, no penalties?” She could not understand with 259’s open-air plan, serving alcohol at all hours, how could noise be mitigated?

Roxanne Brown I spoke and noted that on the CUB application, a copy of which I had in my hand, the question whether this project was within 1,000 feet of churches, synagogues, schools had been answered with a “NO.”

I then presented a map showing that the 200 block of Hampton contains two churches, a synagogue with pre-school/day care and St. Joseph’s Center, which provides daily religious services and day care. One church is 32 feet from 259 Hampton, Synagogue – 360 feet, St. Josephs – 265 feet and St. Clement Catholic Church – 515 feet.

Parking was a big subject. Elaine Spierer summed up the views of many, “These virtual parking places that are approved you know they’re like in the ozone. You can’t park virtually. And worse than that they never collect the money from these people. It’s just like a shell game.”

Amanda Borja spoke. She lives behind Gjusta at 320 Sunset with her toddler and husband. She spoke about how noisy having a bakery next door is – delivery trucks, cars, patrons talking. With that much noise from a bakery, how could the city consider a restaurant at 259 Hampton?

Borja went on to say, “This project in no way benefits the Venice Community. We have an overabundance [of restaurants serving alcohol]. Tourists – why do they hold more weight than the residents? This isn’t Universal Studios or Disneyland. It’s a beach. Alcohol benefits the business, not the community.”

Borja said she can’t get her stroller near 259 Hampton with so many people, skateboarders, bicyclists, pedestrians, and many vehicles, at this congested intersection of Rose and Hampton.

Ed and Diem Zobrist reside in San Francisco and were here for the hearing. They own a multi-unit property across the street from 259 Hampton, where their children live, along with other residents. Mr. Zobrist expressed his concerns about how narrow Hampton is, how little parking already exists, and people constantly doing U-Turns (the 200 block of Hampton ends and a one-way going the opposite direction begins at Marine). He said they already hear loud people coming and going [to and from restaurants serving alcohol] on Main Street – keep them on Main.

Mr. Zobrist also said to me, “I’ve heard of 6 months and a year for conditional use. Five years is ridiculous. That would mean the city and residents have five years to decide whether having alcohol at 259 is a nuisance – could be a five year nightmare.”

Lori Geller (she and her husband own a multi-unit property across from 259) noted how proud they are of their property and that her tenants are professionals who need sleep.

Geller went on to say, “Valet – that made my heart race. That’s all my tenants need – valets swinging around the block. Design an open aired building – this is insane – on a street with churches and synagogue and kids – that’s even more insane. To think that I’m standing here seven hours – if you walked on our street, you’d all be laughing. That’s how insane this project is. It cannot happen.”

Sergeant Robin Richards stated that the Los Angeles Police Department opposes the project, due to high concentration of alcohol in the area, and the impact it would have on the neighborhood.

APPLICANT AND APELLANT REBUTTALS
Vitalich’s closing remarks included, “If the [city] staff recommendations are to deny the appeal and the staff recommendations are all based on merit and evidence then I think the commission has a responsibility to be consistent with that.”

Marosi was then given the opportunity to speak. Venice Update captured her closing remarks in last week’s report.

COUNCILMAN BONIN’S OFFICE
The Commission asked Robertson to weigh in with Bonin’s recommendation. Robertson stated, “We’re not taking a position on this project at this time. We don’t have plans showing what was approved…so without adequate information, we’re uncomfortable.”

SENIOR CITY PLANNER
Prior to their decision, the Commission had more questions; one regarded having a handicapped parking space. Shanna Bonstin, Senior City Planner said she would “have a go” and stated that with zero parking available at 259 Hampton, a handicapped space is not required.

COMMISSION’S DECISION
The Commission’s President, Vice President and Commissioners then each stated reasons for their conclusions. In unanimous agreement, the Commission voted to uphold the appeal and deny the proposed project at 259 Hampton. Residents rejoiced in hearing the Commission’s voice of reason.

SUMMARY – Brown’s Opinion
All of the Area Planning Commissioners could decipher the information and make a decision based on the plans on file. Marosi was able to sort through the confusion and decipher the plans and information. [Note to the city: You may want to hire Marosi.]

Citizens throughout LA are experiencing what we experienced at this hearing. The city appears to favor moneyed special interests that flout the laws. The city seems to be greasing the wheels for them.

It appeared obvious that the applicants had been assured their project at 259 Hampton would go through. In my opinion, the city seems to be accepting lies on the CUB application, approving and providing conflicting plans, and playing a game of confusion – not to mention coercing the appellant.

Wouldn’t it be less costly in time, money, and energy if the city advocated for businesses that follow procedures (LUPC and VNC review), obey the laws and are considerate and respectful of their neighbors? We’re all for those businesses!