OPINION: An editorial by Patricia Lombard
On Tuesday, January 13th, Albert Mizrahi’s “Larchmont Village Partners One LLC,” the owner of the Larchmont Bungalow, a restaurant that has been operating illegally since October 2009, will appear before the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee of the City Council around 2:30 p.m. Mr. Mizrahi and his latest lawyers now seek to overturn the Central Area Planning Commission’s October 14, 2014, denial of Mr. Mizrahi’s request for exemption from the zoning ordinance that limits the number of restaurants on Larchmont Blvd. between 1st Street and Beverly Boulevard. He also asked for a reduction in the parking required and an alcohol license to sell beer and wine.
The case of the Larchmont Bungalow is actually quite simple and straightforward, but the appeal seeks to confuse and obfuscate the facts, a tactic employed by the Bungalow owner and operator from the start.
There is nothing in the appeal to support overturning the Central Area Planning Commission’s recent decision. The statements in the application’s conclusion are false.
For example, Bungalow attorney Jerold B. Neuman, wrote, “The applicant is not requesting any change of existing use…” But prior to being remodeled into the Bungalow, 107 N. Larchmont Blvd. was a retail use and had been for many, many years. In fact, for decades, it had been Dippell Realty Company. In 2009, the Department of Building and Safety (DBS) permitted Mr. Mizrahi to continue to occupy the building as retail, with take-out food sales.
As soon as the Bungalow opened in 2009, however, DBS determined that there was a change of use from take-out retail to a sit-down restaurant and that this was a violation of the “Q” conditions that govern the zoning on Larchmont Boulevard. The “Q” conditions have been in place since the early 1990s and limit the number of food establishments, banks, and real estate offices to preserve the local-serving retail uses on the street.
Fundamental to this latest application for special treatment (already rejected by both the Planning Department and the Central Area Planning Commission) is the owner’s proposed legalization of his unpermitted change of use from a retail store to a restaurant, and the significant impact of that restaurant use on the street. A quick glance at the Bungalow’s Yelp reviews reveals consistent comments about the difficulty of parking on Larchmont. The increased demand for parking generated by restaurants severely taxes the parking available for the retail stores. That is among the reasons that the Bungalow’s request for a reduction in the required parking was also rejected by the Central Area Planning Commission.
The owner/applicant has been in violation of Larchmont’s zoning from the start and has made no effort to correct the violation by operating only the retail and take-out business for which he was permitted by the City. Instead, he sued the City alleging unfair prosecution and that he did not understand the covenant he signed with the City agreeing to operate as a take-out with no tables and chairs. The City won both of those lawsuits, and higher courts refused to hear or grant Mr. Mizrahi’s appeals.
Mr. Mizrahi also pleaded guilty to fire code violations for failing to file for a permit with the Fire Department and overcrowding. He is currently on probation and is subject to frequent inspections by the Fire Department. According to a City inspector, the restaurant has been shut down four times for fire code violations since the three-year probation began last year.
Significant City resources have been expended over the past five years to enforce the zoning restrictions on Larchmont. The goal and the intent of the zoning — to protect the street’s unique, neighborhood-serving retail businesses and preserve a balance of retail and other uses — is not unprecedented. Local retail streets exist and thrive in many areas of the City. There is nothing that supports overturning those rules and the Planning Department’s and the DBS’s interpretations and enforcement of the rules. The PLUM Committee should deny this latest appeal.Larchmont Bungalow Hearing before the Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUM) File No. 14-1667 Tuesday, Jan 13, 2015 2:30 pm Los Angeles City Hall 200 N. Spring Street, Room 395