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W. Hollywood Reverses Age Limit at Disco

May 19, 1988|RON RUSSELL | Times Staff Writer

It cost him a year and $15,000 in legal fees, but the owner of a popular West Hollywood disco said it was worth it this week after the City Council reversed a Business License Commission decision that he said threatened to destroy his business.

"I think it shows the system works, but that it can sometimes be expensive," said Josh Feld, owner of Peanuts, a nightclub at 7969 Santa Monica Blvd. that caters mostly to young adults.

The disco became the focus of controversy last year, when the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department claimed it was a public nuisance. Deputies cited complaints from neighbors about noise, vandalism, violence and underage drinking by the nightclub's patrons.

At an emotionally charged hearing in March, the commission voted to bar people younger than 21,--which Feld said represented 60% of his clientele--as a condition for renewing the disco's licenses to permit dancing and serve food.

Punishment Too Harsh

But on Monday the council sided with Feld in deciding that the punishment was too harsh, while leaving a requirement that a security guard be posted in the disco's parking lot.

Feld's appeal was one of three matters to come before the council Monday involving businesses accused of being public nuisances.

At the urging of the Sheriff's Department, the council upheld the commission's decision to revoke the business license of an adult movie arcade where at least 50 people were arrested in the past year for sex-related offenses.

And it postponed until next month a decision involving Cheers, a popular Santa Monica Boulevard bar and restaurant whose neighbors say that noise from an outdoor patio annex as well as increased traffic have made their lives miserable.

In voting to close Venus Picture Arcade, at 7768 Santa Monica Blvd., the council rejected the argument of a lawyer for owner Joseph Valenti that the arcade was the target of harassment and abuse by sheriff's deputies.

"This whole thing is a tempest in a teapot," attorney Norman Atkins told the council. "This is no hotbed of badness the way it has been portrayed. Instead, we've seen an ongoing program of harassment and abuse (by sheriff's deputies) aimed at putting my client out of business."

But Deputy County Counsel Jan Pluim painted a different picture.

Illicit Sex Acts

Citing dozens of arrests for illicit sex acts by patrons of the establishment in the past year, he called the case against the arcade "clear, convincing and overwhelming."

It marked the second time this year that the council has voted to close an adult business. In February, the Beverly Hills Massage Parlor, on Santa Monica Boulevard across from City Hall, was forced to close after authorities said it was being used as a house of prostitution.

Meanwhile, the Cheers dispute lasted for almost four hours, and produced about three dozen witnesses, many of whose homes are near the establishment at 8279 Santa Monica Blvd.

"You can't imagine how Cheers has disrupted our lives," said Kostas Avgeropoulos, whose apartment on Norton Avenue is next door to the restaurant's outdoor patio bar that has become a sore spot with neighbors since Cheers opened in November.

He and others complained of loud noise from patrons until well after midnight each night, and said the restaurant's large clientele had made it increasingly difficult for them to park in front of their homes.

"I work all day, and when I come home I expect to be able to park without having to drive around for a half-hour looking for a spot, and I also expect to be able to sleep," said Bonnie Cosby, whose home is also near the restaurant.

An Immediate Success

Cheers has been locked in a dispute with neighbors since it opened and became an immediate success at a location that for years was occupied by a much less popular bar and restaurant.

The neighbors say owner Chris Cox misrepresented his plans in 1986 when he obtained a permit from the city to expand an outdoor bar area, which the neighbors claim never existed.

After city officials approved the "expansion" without conducting an inspection, the Planning Commission in February determined that even though the patio existed before, it had not been used continuously as a bar area. The commission imposed new noise restrictions on the restaurant.

At Monday's meeting, Cox, who said he has spent nearly $500,000 refurbishing the restaurant, said he felt "kind of ripped off" by the city.

"The thing about being called a nuisance really bothers me, when you consider that I've done everything the city required of me, and I've provided a popular business where none existed before," Cox said.

The council directed the Department of Community Development staff to try to work out a compromise between Cox and the neighbors to reduce the noise--including possibly installing a sound wall behind the patio--as well as to investigate whether the restaurant is in compliance with city parking requirements.

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