By Roxanne Brown – Member Concerned Neighbors of 320 Sunset
With a permit for BAKERY (Bakery equipment Only, Selling Baked Goods Only with No Seating and No Eating on premises), Fran Camaj, owner of Gjusta at 320 Sunset, has built a 5,000 square foot RESTAURANT with commercial Kitchen equipment. Thus was born the FAKERY.
The FAKERY opened Oct. 29 and Camaj began serving fish, beef and fowl, encouraging and allowing patrons to eat and sit on premises, including Gjusta’s dirty parking lot and construction area. Where, we wonder, is the Health Department? Camaj is also building a humongous wall for an outdoor patio. Camaj does NOT HAVE A PERMIT for any of this.
ZONING HEARING OVERVIEW – approximately 60 people in attendance
On November 13, the Zoning Department conducted a hearing to consider Camaj’s request for “change of use”, from “bakery” to restaurant.
Chris Robertson, Deputy Director of Land Use and Planning, represented Councilman Bonin’s office at the meeting. Ara Sargsyan, Office Manager, represented the Building and Safety Department. Residents were disappointed not to see department leaders at this important hearing. Gjusta is one of the most contentious development issues in Venice at the moment.
ZONING MEETING TESTIMONY
Camaj and his architect representative, Stephen Vitalich, told zoning staff they “forgot” to bring their parking plan. Robin Rudisill, Venice’s Land Use and Planning Committee (LUPC) Chair and member of the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC), noted that it has been a year and Gjusta’s case file still isn’t complete. Really? And, there is NO PENALTY or late fee imposed?
LUPC and VNC representatives told Zoning Administrator Maya Zaitzevsky that they were recommending denial of any change of use. Robertson read Councilman Bonin’s letter recommending denial.
LAPD’s Captain Brian Johnson recommended denial of the liquor license, since this area of Venice is authorized for 5, and somehow has 14. Pacific Division Vice Unit Sgt. Robin Richards and Sarah Blanch of the Westside Impact Project also recommended denial.
Residents addressed the danger of bringing hundreds of people and their vehicles to Gjusta, where 5 streets converge – Sunset, 3rd Avenue, the entry/exit to Gold’s parking lot, the entry/exit to Gjusta’s parking lot, and the narrow alley connecting Sunset to Vernon, all bounded by the busy thoroughfares of 4th Avenue and Hampton Drive, one block south and parallel to congested Rose Avenue. Clearly this density of traffic congestion is a recipe for disaster. Add alcohol and the probability of a fatal accident increases greatly, as noted by Blanch, based on a 2011 study by the LA County Department of Public Health.
Residents presented their many objections to the “proposed” restaurant. It is too close to residents’ homes (12 feet six inches), residents are already smelling cooking oil and smoke fumes, hearing loud noise, experiencing nuisance, pollution, increased traffic, and lack of parking. Since residents have seen with their eyes and experienced with their senses, they exhibited in testimony and photographic evidence that Camaj has flagrantly disregarded laws and regulations at Gjusta, the “Bakery”. Residents do not want to observe and experience what would occur with change of use to a “restaurant.”
Building and Safety confirmed that Gjusta with its present permit CAN NOT serve food other than BAKED GOODS, CAN NOT allow people to EAT and SIT on premises. “Bakery means baked goods…not sandwiches, not a coffee shop. You cannot eat in a parking lot. Parking means parking for vehicles,” said Sargsyan.
ZONING ADMINISTRATOR’S COMMENTS
Zoning Administrator Maya Zaitzevsky told Camaj, “I’m taking the case under advisement, but at this point I have no ability to approve the patio portion. Given that there is opposition to the patio, it might be your best option to just eliminate it and add interior seats.”
Flout the laws, and, yes, we may approve your change of use? Given all the testimony and evidence against approving, how is this even a consideration? Zaitzevsky’s statement makes the approval sound like a done deal. Is the law up for negotiation? When the original use as “BAKERY” is already operating OUTSIDE of the law and causing a nuisance, why reward the owner with a Change of Use and an Alcohol Permit? You’ve Gotta be kidding!
Laws are being broken and residents oppose Gjusta the “bakery” as is. Give Camaj an inch and it appears he hijacks a whole neighborhood. The proof is in the Gjelina (and now Gjusta) pudding. City agencies and city leaders are well aware of the 150-plus-page lawsuit filed by residents living near Gjelina. They are well aware that Camaj’s Gjelina continues to create a nuisance and has done so for seven years without penalty. Now Camaj is doing the same with Gjusta.
If our city leaders would lead and the law allowed, Gjusta’s “change of use” would be denied with no right of appeal and Gjusta would be shut down. The City should set an example, making clear to business owners and developers that disregarding and breaking the law will not be tolerated.
Residents are worried that the opposite example, a dangerous precedent, is being set by the City of LA.: that it’s OK to ignore permits and laws. In fact, we will look the other way, and there will be no penalty. It’s OK to destroy Los Angeles residential neighborhoods one block at a time.
THE DAY AFTER ZONING MEETING
Camaj returned to Gjusta at 320 Sunset on November 14 and continued with business “as usual.” He must have instructed his valet attendants (no permit for valet parking) to park cars in a U shape (see photo below). Peak over the cars and you will see Gjusta’s customers sitting and eating as usual. Is this the CAMAJOUFLAGE parking plan that Camaj “forgot” to bring to the city-planning meeting?
People may like Gjusta’s food, but when they hear the back-story, it doesn’t taste so good. In fact, it’s hard to swallow.
Many Venice residents believe that Mayor Garcetti’s administration and Councilman Bonin may have a back-room deal with Camaj. Venice residents and voters are watching what they do next.
This brings up the question of which side our city leaders are on: a business breaking the law or a government protecting the safety and welfare of Venice’s historic Oakwood community?
Above: People eating on creates in Gjusta’s parking lot
Photo: Iliana Marosi