DEEGAN ON LA-Are protections to control alcohol permits that had been approved and put in place by neighborhood councils with community input and city approval being diluted? This is what community activists are saying: City Attorney Mike Feuer has been allowing City Planning to remove, reduce or modify conditions without notifying the neighborhood councils and the original stakeholders involved in the creation of these conditions in the first place, leading to the very negative impacts those communities have been trying to avoid.
At issue are Conditional Use Permits for Beverage (CUBs) that set the conditions for establishments selling alcohol in communities.
Has this been happening because the City Planning Department does not loop in the relevant stakeholders about proposed changes? Or, is it because the City Attorney has advised that City Planning can let these agreements be reduced or lapse without further discussion and approval?
A group of Westside activists feels this erosion stems from unilateral actions taken by the City Attorney.
They take serious issue with City Attorney Mike Feuer who they have met with at least three times, but say they have gotten nowhere. The activists allege that the City Attorney is unilaterally approving these rollbacks which, in their view, should only be able to be approved by the City Council, after review by the community.
When asked about this, a spokesperson for the City Attorney told CityWatch, “We cannot discuss any confidential advice we may have given a client.”
Activist Wendy-Sue Rosen of the Brentwood Residents Coalition provided CityWatch with the context of the issue: “For decades, applicants for Conditional Use Permits for Beverage (CUBs) routinely engaged with community organizations and stakeholders to gain support for their CUB applications by agreeing upon land-use conditions designed to mitigate adverse impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods. The cooperative process worked—CUBs were granted and neighborhoods were protected. Then, in 2012 the City Attorney’s office reversed that process with no notice to the community, no instruction from the City Council, no opportunity for public input.”
“The Coalition,” Rosen continues, “had three in-person meetings with City Attorney Mike Feuer. We came away very concerned and surprised that the City Attorney seemed unwilling to exercise the City’s police powers to protect neighborhoods. It was alarming that the City Attorney was allowing CUB holders to break the promises they made to obtain their permits.”
Zeroing in on the role of the City Attorney, Rosen said, “In Westwood, an applicant for a CUB negotiated with the Westwood Community Council and local stakeholders to gain their support, agreed to a set of land use and public safety conditions, and obtained the benefit of the permit. Then they came back later, not to the Community Council, but to the West LA Area Planning Commission to ask for the removal of the conditions they had previously agreed to. At the hearing the City Attorney instructed the Commission they were required to remove the conditions.” “The City Attorney is clearly setting public policy. That is the job of the City Council. This supposed “policy change” came with no notice to the community, no opportunity for public input, and no consideration by City Council. We were just told this is how it is,” concluded Rosen.
Stepping into the dispute is Councilmember Paul Koretz (CD5) who represents significant parts of the westside, including Westwood. On November 28, he introduced a motion addressing complaints from neighbors reporting that too often the Planning Department was removing neighborhood protections from the establishments that sell alcohol that had been initially been put in place as part of agreements to issue the license in the first place – resulting in problems in their neighborhood.
“It has been brought to our attention," said Koretz, "that the Planning Department has been removing conditions without notifying the original stakeholders involved in their permit approvals leading to the very negative impacts that we've been trying to avoid. I believe that it is the local community's right to be involved in the decision-making process of how the sale and service of alcohol impacts their communities. They have intimate knowledge of the issues specific to their neighborhoods and, therefore, their volunteer hours of effort and input should not be erased with the stroke of a pen.”
A spokesperson for Councilmember Koretz told CityWatch that “the Councilmember wants to make sure a balance is being maintained, and that we want our small businesses to thrive within the communities they serve but not unduly impacting neighborhoods by reversing previously agreed upon traffic, noise, hours of operations and parking mitigations to name a few.”
The matter is currently with the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee for deliberation. No hearing date has been set.
(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.