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A Club of Contention : Battle Rages Over Whether Nightspot Is a Nuisance or a Scapegoat

August 29, 1993|KEN ELLINGWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WEST HOLLYWOOD — Even in liberated West Hollywood, it is not every club where a fellow can step out in his favorite haltered mini-dress and go-to-hell spiked pumps.

But a fellow can at Peanuts, whose nightly theme parties draw drag queens on Fridays, lesbian striptease fans on Tuesdays and straight rock 'n' rollers midweek--arguably the most eclectic clientele in a city throbbing with night spots.

The club, a former jazz room and later a burlesque joint--now owns one other distinction: It is without question the most fought-over club in West Hollywood.

The nightclub's on-again, off-again war with neighbors is raging anew, following two separate shootings during an alcohol-free teen party July 29. The violence, in which a 15-year-old girl was injured, has renewed demands that the city close the club as a dangerous nuisance to the neighborhood of apartments just behind it.

"Things have been getting out of hand with these theme nights," said John Nieto, who lives directly behind the club and leads a Neighborhood Watch group that has warred sporadically with it for three years.

Residents charge that the club's owner reneged on an agreement to soundproof the establishment and provide better security to control patrons they say have ransacked a nearby store, loitered in the streets until all hours and used their lawns as toilets.

Owner Josh Feld, who has canceled the youth dance parties, insists that he has kept past bargains with neighbors and says they are unfairly blaming his club for every stumbling vagrant and thumping car stereo along busy Santa Monica Boulevard.

"On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of problem clubs, we are about a 3," Feld said, adding that the shootings were the first at Peanuts in the 13 years he has managed it. The neighborhood group members, he said, "have an agenda and the agenda is to close the club. They don't want to live next to a club, and even things that are legal that go along with it."

As in previous years, the city has stepped in. Officials are investigating the club's history of police calls and looking for records of alcohol-law and crowding violations to see if Peanuts has caused enough trouble to warrant a hearing before the city's Business License Commission, which could take away the club's license.

The club's name was changed several months ago to 7969, which is its address on Santa Monica Boulevard. But virtually all the residents and weary city officials tracking the long conflict still call it Peanuts.

"Ever since I've been here, this has been a problem," said Nancy Greenstein, the city's public safety coordinator. "This has gone on and on and on."

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The latest skirmishing has been particularly nasty.

Shortly after the shooting incidents, the Center City Alliance neighborhood group put up flyers publicizing the shootings and calling for action. The signs quickly disappeared and a club employee acknowledged tearing some down on his own. Look-alike flyers then sprouted, targeting neighborhood group leader Nieto's business, a massage service. The new flyers, featuring Nieto's advertisement in a magazine for a "phantasy rub," urged residents to "Stop Illicit Activity."

Feld said he had nothing to do with tearing down the original flyers or distributing the new ones, copies of which were mailed to the neighborhood group and city officials. Nieto said his massage service is legal. "It's a nice stimulating, therapeutic massage," he said. "I have nothing to hide. This is what I do."

Meanwhile, Feld has vowed to sue the neighborhood group over $6,000 he donated two years ago to help pay for motion-sensitive security lights on nearby homes as part of a city-brokered truce. He charged that the group has broken the agreement by spending only about $1,100 so far. He said he suspects the rest of the money is being used to fight him. Group members said they were able to do the security lighting job cheaply and are keeping the remaining $4,900 in a bank account, since the agreement never said when it had to be spent.

Each side has rallied dozens of backers to recent meetings of the City Council, which may end up having to decide the club's fate.

The residents' complaints are not much different from the grumblings over trash, traffic and periodic crime heard by neighbors of nightclubs on the Sunset Strip and other parts of town.

But Peanuts differs from other clubs in its nearness to residences--some apartments are less than 50 feet from the club's back wall--and its seemingly constant place at the center of a tempest.

Five years ago, the City Council spared the club from restrictions that Feld feared would kill it after the Sheriff's Department declared the club a public nuisance. Neighbors complained then about fighting, noise and underage drinking, while Feld charged that sheriff's deputies were harassing him and patrons because he had filed a complaint against a deputy in 1986.

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