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3rd. Street Battle Being Waged

By Ian Lovett, 9/16/2010

Business Owners Spar Over Parking, Permits, Liquor


An employee at a restaurant on 3rd Street found this notice on her car. When asked about the ticket, Diana Plotkin, president of BWHA, said she did not know anything about it. "We never circulate petitions or put notices on cars. Someone is going around using our names, " Plotkin said.

Before Ratner’s Deli and Magnolia Bakery, the Smokin’ Joint, Toast, Little Next Door, Dough Boys, and Joan’s on Third all opened their doors on 3rd Street between Fairfax Avenue and La Cienega Boulevard. And they all faced opposition from the Beverly Wilshire Homes Association (BWHA), as did other restaurants further afield, like BLD on Beverly Boulevard.

As usual in Los Angeles, parking is the primary source of conflict. Currently, the City of Los Angeles struggles to regulate valet parking operators, many of which employ unlicensed drivers, disable parking meters, park cars illegally on residential streets, and sign exclusive lease agreements with multiple restaurants for the same parking spaces. The city keeps no database of valet parking leases to prevent so-called “double dipping”.

As a result, homeowners associations such as the BWHA have taken it upon themselves to do some of the policing the city does not do.  Members of the BWHA look up code requirements, take pictures of structures they deem illegal, and almost invariably oppose anyone trying to open a new restaurant or apply for a liquor license on 3rd Street, putting the group at odds with local businesses.

“None of them have any parking,” said Diana Plotkin, president of the BWHA. “They’re double and triple dipping. Everyone has the same parking, so no one has any parking.”

Though Plotkin’s group opposed all of the restaurants listed above, all except Ratner’s have been able to open. In some cases, the appeals led the restaurants to make concessions — Magnolia Bakery gave up the seating it had applied for so it could open. More often, what the BWHA’s opposition cost the restaurants was time and money. In some cases, the homeowners merely wrote letters of opposition to the planning commission, which decides whether to grant permits to restaurants; but in other cases, members of the group appeal the decision to grant a restaurant’s permit to the planning commission and then to the city council. If a restaurant has applied for an expedited permit, which most do, the applicant must pay for the zoning administrator to work on the case, which can still take months and cost thousands of dollars.

Elizabeth Peterson is an expeditor who has worked to help open Dough Boys, Little Next Door, Smokin’ Joint, Magnolia, and most recently Ratner’s, which won its appeal at the city council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee on Tuesday. Peterson said the BWHA appealed all of those cases except Smokin’ Joint, though the group formally opposed that application as well.

“The BWHA came at me really nicely and asked me to advertise in their newsletter,” said Michael Kessler, owner of Smokin’ Joint. “I did, just to keep them at bay, but apparently all that was for naught.”

The BWHA’s ability to hold up applications and impose fees on restaurants hoping to open, has many local business owners spooked. Many refused to speak to the Beverly Press on the record for this story. Brad Kent, owner of Olio Pizzeria and Café, which is still trying to get all the necessary permits, said he hoped BWHA would leave his application alone.

“Diana Plotkin is that name I keep hearing,” Kent said. “I look forward to hopefully never encountering her. I can’t afford it.”

Prior to 1990, it was easy to open a restaurant. But that year, the city passed an ordinance that required a certain number of parking spaces for most types of new businesses.

The ordinance created the system of “paper parking”, wherein, before any business can open, the owners need to show they have exclusive parking rights to certain spaces. On streets like 3rd Street, because businesses do not have on-site parking, they have to lease these spaces from valet companies. However, the valet operators don’t park the cars in the spaces they have leased to the business, and instead park in metered spots on the street, or illegally in residential neighborhoods.

“The people who say the city’s not doing a good job of enforcing rules are absolutely right,” said Mott Smith, a consultant who works with the West Third Street Business Association. “We’ve got a zoning code that pushing 1,000 pages, and they cannot effectively enforce that. Unfortunately, the process can’t tell the difference between good businesses and bad businesses, and it can’t tell the difference between genuinely concerned neighbors and vigilantes. What we have as a result is land use trial by ordeal.”

Smith has helped put together a public valet program, which has several stands along 3rd Street and parks cars at the Beverly Connection and two other locations for anyone who comes to 3rd Street.

“The city doesn’t regulate valet companies,” Smith said. “There is no law that says a valet company can’t park patron cars in public spots. So we’re taking it upon ourselves as a community to make sure that the valet company we hired is behaving properly. We want to get more cars parking with the public valet, which would mean more parking on the street.”

The BWHA has objected to the public valet program Smith organized, as well. Joel Post, vice president of the BWHA, said valets from the public valet were also parking cars in metered spots and on residential streets. Smith denied this was the case, as did Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District.

“We believe the universal valet works,” Koretz said.

On Monday, at a public meeting of the BWHA with Koretz, Plotkin outlined the one solution to the parking problem on 3rd Street that her group would support.

“What we need is a parking structure on Third,” Plotkin said to Koretz. “I don’t care if you have to steal the money for it. We need a parking structure.”

Koretz — indeed, everyone — agrees that 3rd Street needs a parking structure. However, the city doesn’t have money to fund it.

“Twenty years ago, it could have been done with enough political will,” Koretz said. “Now, the city is close enough to bankrupt as it is. There’s not going to be any money for a parking structure.”

Without a parking structure, there is only one other solution the BWHA will support: no more restaurants. Plotkin said, including the Grove—a project she supported—and the Beverly Center, there are 71 restaurants with full liquor licenses. In addition to the numbers of intoxicated drivers on the road, members of the group said that the concentration of restaurants is forcing out other neighborhood businesses, like jewelers and shoe stores.

“If that isn’t overconcentration, you might as well throw out the term ‘overconcentration’,” Plotkin said. “The businesses don’t live here. They work here and they want to make money on this. The businesses never contributed anything to the community.”

Some other local residents at the meeting echoed the BWHA’s concerns. Theresa Feldman complained that parking requirements were not enforced when a business location changed from a retail operation to a restaurant or bar.

“A change of use is supposed to signal a parking requirement, but it doesn’t,” Feldman said. “Then two years later, the restaurant owners say they can’t survive without alcohol, but they can’t serve alcohol without parking, and the valets use the same spots over and over. It’s crazy.”

But not all residents agree with the BWHA’s position. Reeva Sherman, who has lived in the area for 45 years, said most patrons walk to the restaurants on 3rd Street.

“They’re harassing all the businesses, especially in this tough economy,” Sherman said. “Most of the people in this group (BWHA) are an older demographic, and they don’t speak for a lot of the residents. I think they’re doing damage to the community. The city has to give businesses a little leeway right now, otherwise they’ll be left with plenty of parking, and plenty of vacancies.”

Koretz, in theory, sided with the BWHA. “Parking is in such short supply, I think we’ve reached a critical mass of restaurants on Third, and we don’t need any more businesses with high-occupancy uses.”

However, despite public pressure from Plotkin, who was part of the Committee to Recall Jack Weiss, Koretz’s office declined to oppose Ratner’s Deli’s application at this week’s hearing.

Koretz’s office is working on a database to tack lease agreements with valet companies, so they will not be able to double dip any more, but he said that project, too, is a long way from fruition.

“We’re actively working on it,” said Chris Koontz, planning deputy for the 5th Council District, “But it’s a giant task. It’s going to take a while.”


11 Responses to “3rd. Street Battle Being Waged”

  1. Lorelei Shark says:

    [In regards to the article titled “3rd Street Battle Wages On” in the Sept. 16 issue], as editor of the BWHA newsletter, I am offended by this erroneous quote: “The BWHA came at me really nicely and asked me to advertise in their newsletter,” said Michael Kessler, owner of Smokin’ Joint. “I did, just to keep them at bay, but apparently all that was for naught.”
    Advertising in the BWHA newsletter or online is intended to create more business for the vendor, not as a quid pro quo. Mr. Kessler states he never spoke to anyone in the press nor has he ever implied that advertising in the newsletter was connected in any way to actions taken by BWHA. I demand a retraction from the paper as it appears that BWHA is in the business of extorting local vendors.
    Furthermore, the copy of the “Official Notice” displayed in the article is not from anyone on the BWHA board and was erroneously attributed to our Association. Under the “Notice” was “Photo courtesy of B-Side Blog”. This is an entertainment website that did not publish the notice, but apparently provided a copy of it to Ian Lovett, writer of the article. I suggest that Mr. Lovett confirms his information before printing it.

    Editor’s note:

    The Beverly Press spoke with Michael Kessler, owner of Smokin’ Joint, on September 2 outside his restaurant, where he talked about buying an ad in the BWHA newsletter. His quote is an accurate account of what he said.
    In addition, B-Side Blog published the BWHA parking notice in a post on July 16: http://www.bsideblog.com/2010/07/magnolia-bakery-preview-pudding-scandal/

  2. Teresa Feldman says:

    The 3rd Street parking problem is nothing new, and the community eagerly awaits a comprehensive system whereby parking leases can be tracked. Having a parking supply that meets demand will benefit all merchants on 3rd Street, not just restaurants. However, adding more new restaurants in the meantime will not make anything better, and the concentration of alcohol along one stretch is getting a little ridiculous. I wish Ian Lovett had attended the last Mid City West Community Council Planning and Land Use Committee meeting, where we heard 6 requests for Conditional Use Permits for alcohol; four of them were on 3rd Street. A representative of BWHA spoke in support of two applications, and against two. The committee agreed with that individual, and voted to support two.

    Restaurants are risky businesses even in the best of times. In order to have a stable commercial strip along 3rd Street, we need to have a mix of businesses that serve local residents and attract visitors. A “restaurant row” will destabilize the street. And that’s not good for anyone.

  3. Benjamin Lee says:

    I respect the previous commenter’s feelings, but she’s living in an economic lala-land. She thinks that by killing the restaurants on 3rd Street, she’ll save the retailers. This couldn’t be more wrong. And I should know. My family IS one of those retailers on the street. And we have been losing our shirts over the past several years because people are not shopping like they used to. The commenter only need take a walk on 3rd to see all the vacant storefronts that used house retailers who, in the end, couldn’t stay alive even if their landlords gave them free rent. Anyway, the only thing we can do with our space and not go deeper in the hole is to open a restaurant. Even though they’re not shopping as much, people are still eating out. I am sick and tired of armchair economists treating good business people’s well-being like a toy they can play with. If this commenter believes so strongly that killing restaurants will somehow make customers show up to the stores, perhaps she would be willing to take over our space, open up a retail store and stake her family’s future on its success?

  4. Belinda Gomez says:

    Plotkin’s a shake-down artist. Remember how she opposed The Grove, until Caruso hired her hubby as a “consultant”.

  5. Amy Alkon says:

    Businesses need to pay their own costs, not stick residents with them. If you cannot provide parking for the customers you bring in in a certain area, don’t open there. Open somewhere you can. That’s ethical business, and far too few businesses are doing it.

  6. Harold Tomin says:

    Response to Ms. Gomez: Ms. Plotkin’s husband passed away in the early 70s; the Grove was not built until the mid to late 90s. Ms. Gomez ought to be more careful about the facts before she undertakes to publish. Such recklessness can have very serious consequences for Ms. Gomez.

  7. miss teresa says:

    With all due respect to Mr. Lee, I don’t live in any kind of LaLa-land. I serve the community in which I live in a voluntary capacity, on both the Neighborhood Council and on the non-profit board that is working toward improving Third Street. I make no money from my endeavors, and my aim is to make a better neighborhood for those I represent. I also have worked in restaurants and catering, and am well aware of the perils of opening a food service establishment. Just because I have a different vision for my neighborhood than someone else does not make me delusional, and I resent Mr. Lee implying that I am in some way naive. Mr. Lee is a business owner, who has a property that has seen better days. He is correct that Battery City is a business that may no longer be needed along Third Street. His property has deferred maintenance and a below code add-on structure at the rear. I am pleased he has chosen to upgrade the site. However, I am also well aware of the parking issues on Third Street, and each change of use from retail to restaurant adds to the shortage.

  8. Benjamin Lee says:

    Teresa – I am pleased to learn that you have some experience in the restaurant and hospitality arena. That is truly great. I hope we can count on your continued support when opening!

    With regards to your views and concerns on business development and more restaurants opening on Third, I would be more than happy to sit down and discuss this with you further. In fact, I, myself will also be participating on a West Third Street Committee in a voluntary capacity as well to better improve our neighborhood. As a lifelong resident of this district, I look forward to it….

  9. Ryan says:

    This is just another example of the lack of public infrastructure spending in this country hampering economic growth and development, and lowering quality of life. Everyone is to blame — from the Republicans who demonize taxes and government to please their short-sighted business buddies, to the Democrats who would rather throw more money at public employee salaries, pensions and benefits in order to please their union cronies. Los Angeles needs subways, parking garages and bike lanes, otherwise, it will never grow up and will remain an overgrown suburb.

  10. Steve says:

    Leave Eva alone…they do not deserve this kind of abuse…why don’t all of you get a real job and stop stealing money frm these successful local businesses…you are not benefitting anyone…I live in this neighborhood and I wouldn’t support this bwha fascist organization….these people are a sorry lot of losers, who have no purpose in life but to make problems for happy successful people…..get a real job you bwha quacks….

  11. Steve says:

    Plotkin does not contribute anything to the community….

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