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Neighbors Raise Objections, Not Glasses, to Cafe Plans

December 17, 1987|SHELDON ITO | Times Staff Writer

A proposed brewery and restaurant featuring a menu of "beer food" created by chef Wolfgang Puck is meeting stiff opposition from nearby residents who say they are worried that the business will bring drunk drivers, increased traffic and noise into their West Los Angeles neighborhood.

"I've got a hunch it's going to ruin our neighborhood," said Bill Sakurai, a resident of Amherst Avenue near the proposed restaurant. "It's too close to issue a permit for alcoholic beverages right next to an R-1 residential area."

Puck and his associates with Los Angeles Brewing Co. Inc. plan to integrate an upscale restaurant into a small brewery in what is now an unused warehouse at 1845 S. Bundy Drive, near the corner of Nebraska Avenue and more than 60 yards from the nearest residence.

Wide Ethnic Range

The 214-seat restaurant will feature a menu of "beer food" from around the world--Chinese baby back ribs, Mexican quesadillas, American hamburgers--that will complement the German-type lager produced by the brewery, said company Vice President Jerry Goldstein. Dinner will cost $20 to $25, Goldstein said.

"I think we're definitely an asset to the community," said Andrew Hoffman, another vice president, citing the need for a nice restaurant in the area, the added safety of having more people around, and a planned parking structure that will reduce the number of workers parking on the streets.

Goldstein said the restaurant "will not be a place drunks go."

"We make money from people buying food," he said. "We don't make much money from people sitting at a bar and buying a $2 beer."

However, Chester Fukai, an Amherst resident, said he cannot see any benefit the brewery and restaurant will bring.

"They're in here to make money and that's the only reason they're here for," he said. "They want to make this a playground for the rich."

Nancy Takeda, a resident of nearby Wellesley Avenue, said she opposes the restaurant on moral grounds.

"I'm against alcoholic beverages coming into the neighborhood," she said. "I think it has a degrading effect on the community."

Residents of both Wellesley Avenue and Amherst Avenue, which leads directly into the restaurant's only driveway on Nebraska, charge that the establishment will add to congestion at the intersection of Nebraska and Bundy and that drivers, some of them intoxicated, will take shortcuts through their neighborhood to avoid the traffic.

A city zoning administrator agreed, and on Aug. 26 ruled against the granting of the restaurant's liquor permit.

The brewing company appealed the decision, and on Nov. 3 the Board of Zoning Appeals overturned the decision after a hearing at which a smiling Puck appeared in his white chef's outfit.

"The four people on the panel, they loved it," Sakurai said. "The chairman of the panel kiddingly asked what the telephone number of the restaurant was. I don't think he should have done it because it was a public meeting."

However, the panel listed conditions that the restaurant must follow, including limiting the number of seats to 120 before 6:30 p.m., providing free valet parking and posting signs at the Nebraska exit indicating that patrons can only turn right or left and not drive straight through to Amherst Avenue.

The permit was also scheduled for review by the zoning administrator in three years.

Unhappy with the decision, the residents, many of them Japanese-Americans who moved to the single-family neighborhood when they returned from World War II internment camps, have turned to the 1,000-member West Los Angeles chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, a civil rights group, for help.

Chapter President Jean Ushijima said the group's executive board voted Monday night to appeal the decision, on the residents' behalf, to the planning committee of the Los Angeles City Council.

Councilman Marvin Braude said he has spoken with league leaders and will support their appeal.

Goldstein said the league's involvement is inappropriate because the issue has nothing to do with race.

Sakurai, a league board member, disagreed. "What's the purpose of having this organization if they can't help the residents and the community at large?" he asked.

Both Goldstein and Hoffman expressed frustration at not being able to sit down with residents and work out their differences. They said they have even offered to be host at a fund-raiser for the Japanese-American rights group when the restaurant opens.

Won't Listen

"We've tried to meet with the people in the community, and they don't even want to listen to us," Hoffman said.

The residents say a meeting will only result in compromise.

"The only way they can resolve this is not to have a restaurant," Sakurai said.

"We just don't want a brewery and bar here operating at 11, 12 o'clock at night," Fukai added.

Hoffman said the Bundy site is crucial to the success of their business because it is the only one in the area that meets their space, parking and zoning needs. He said he does not want to fight the residents but will if he has to.

"My feeling is that we're going to have to go to the City Council because we can't convince these people (to work with us)," he said. "And we're going to win."

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