There is a curious omission in the newspaper ads for this weekend's movies at Century City Shopping Center's 14 new cinemas: No show times are listed.
That is because the theaters, which celebrate their grand opening Friday, may have to cancel late-night shows and close by the unusually early hour of 11 p.m.
This last-second confusion was brought on by neighboring homeowners who have fought the new theaters, saying they will bring increased traffic and noise to the area. The homeowners discovered an unusual application for a common ordinance, and this week convinced city officials to impose the early closing time.
Shopping center officials are now scrambling to find a way to keep their theaters open for late showings, like the ones offered at competing theaters in Westwood.
Whether they can accomplish this by the grand-opening weekend is uncertain.
The shopping center probably will have to seek a special permit from the city, and that will depend on the center coming to an agreement with homeowners over such issues as parking, traffic flow and operating hours.
"I think the homeowners association is prepared to make some concessions," said Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who has been mediating recent discussions between the two sides. "It's been a little more difficult to get the shopping center to be flexible.
"But now I think they are coming around to understanding that they have no choice," Yaroslavsky said. "Or they are going to be a very early closing shopping center."
Time Lag for Permits
With or without an agreement, it will take at least two months to obtain the special permit. However, the theaters might be allowed to operate past 11 p.m. until the conflict is resolved, city officials said.
"We're dealing in good faith and it seems we're not getting much from the other side," said Mike Strle, the shopping center's general manager. "We want to resolve this."
The Century 14 Theaters and the Century City Marketplace, which will open later this month with 32 restaurants and fast-food stands, are intended to attract patrons in the evening and on weekends, when Century City is usually quiet.
The shopping center received city approval for these expansions two years ago, but recent efforts by the 500 homeowners of housing Tract 7260 Assn. have put the complex's future in jeopardy.
First, the association discovered it could oppose the shopping center's request for city liquor permits for the new restaurants. In effect, it tried to hold the permits hostage and force the shopping center to bargain on traffic and noise issues.
The negotiations ended in a stalemate and the restaurants have yet to open. The city's office of zoning administration must now resolve the conflict. It is expected that the zoning office will offer a compromise of its own.
In the meantime, the homeowners found another bargaining tool. They uncovered a city ordinance--originally intended to regulate smaller strip malls--which requires, among other things, that commercial developments next to residential communities close their doors by 11 p.m.
Strle has said the theaters must stay open late in order to compete with Westwood. He has argued that after 9 p.m., when the shopping center's stores have closed, there is 12 times the city-required parking space for moviegoers.
However, residents remain concerned that traffic in and out of the shopping center late at night will prove a nuisance. Negotiations stalled primarily over this issue--which relates to operating hours--and the homeowners' request for a sound wall between their neighborhood and the shopping center.
The shopping center has argued that it should not be required to abide by the strip-mall ordinance and has taken this argument to the city attorney's office.
The outcome of this conflict will probably lie in negotiations and a final decision by the zoning office on both the liquor permits and the city ordinance. In rendering a decision, the city can impose any number of operating restrictions.
"We could ask them to paint the inside of their building lavender, in theory," said John Perica, a zoning administrator. "They may want to stay open until one o'clock, but we may think midnight is more reasonable."
Perica said the city would be heavily influenced by any agreement between homeowners and the shopping center. Shopping center officials are trying to arrange yet another meeting with homeowners this week.