GJUSTA and GARCETTI
The Emperor Has No Clothes
By Roxanne Brown – Member Concerned Neighbors of 320 Sunset
How much longer must we pretend the emperor (Mayor Eric Garcetti) has clothes?
Gjusta is a tale of farce and fakery. Owner Fran Camaj told neighbors that he was building and opening a “bakery take-out only” that would be a less intensive use than the 8-10 person office that had occupied 320 Sunset prior to Gjusta being constructed. Camaj and architect Stephen Vitalich built a restaurant, rear patio and bar/counter with a Certificate of Occupancy for “bakery take-out only.”
Gjusta has been operating as a restaurant for over a year without a restaurant permit. Mayor Eric Garcetti and his administration “pretend” it is a “bakery/take-out only.” It seems Garcetti’s City planning department, Concerned Neighbors of 320 Sunset, and the West LA Planning Commission must also “pretend.”
Garcetti and his administration have enabled this illegal operation for over a year. The emperor has no clothes.
On November 13, 2014, Zoning Administrator Maya Zaitzevsky heard a request for CHANGE OF USE from bakery-take out (which Gjusta has never been, never was intended to be) to restaurant with full alcohol.
On August 11, 2015, Zaitzevsky approved this “change of use.” Concerned Neighbors of 320 Sunset (CNS) then appealed her decision.
The Appeal was to be heard November 18, 2015 before the West LA Area Planning Commission. Applicant Fran Camaj’s (owner Gjelina, Gjusta, Black Beast at 1305 Abbott Kinney) attorney R. J. Comer requested a ninety-day continuance citing:
-Gjusta changing site plans repeatedly – a static site plan is needed
-Gjusta changing parking plan and exiting out alley
-Gjusta’s changes requiring repackaging of mitigated noise declaration (MND)
-Absence of Zoning Administrator Maya Zaitzevsky at this appeal, and the fundamental question of whether she had erred or abused her discretion in granting this approval.
Zaitzevsky had emailed the Commissioners requesting a continuance a week prior to the appeal date of November 18. On the evening of Appeal, Zaitzevsky was unable to attend. She had a family emergency.
-Absence of information and reports from Building and Safety and LAPD
– With a site plan so in flux that the correct site plan isn’t even known, the CEQA (environmental study) is inadequate.
At this November 18th appeal hearing, Commission President Thomas Donovan noted that LA Municipal Code 12.24 W states that the following must be reviewed. The operation should not adversely affect the welfare of the community. Are there other nuisance proceedings in the area? It should not result in an undue concentration of alcohol licenses. Donovan emphasized that Planning should have had this information before making the determination.
Donovan further stated that the Commission is “The trier of fact … can’t do that if we don’t see all of the information.” Donovan has repeatedly requested LAPD and Building and Safety information and has received no reply.
Commissioner Esther Margulies asked whether the City has received the acoustical study. City’s planning and zoning Kevin Jones was “not certain.”
Donovan queried, “We saw this happening last July (at Gjusta’s Traffic Appeal hearing), why has it taken this long to ask for a continuance? Why wait until now – at the eleventh hour?”
Comer responded, “I’m sorry, the timing is the timing.”
Commissioner Margulies asked, “How can this project proceed when the current operation is not operating legally?” Margulies also asked, “In order to consider change of use, is there no rule saying you need to be operating legally to proceed?”
Senior City Planner Simon Pastucha and City’s Kevin Jones confirmed – no rule.
Commissioner Lisa Waltz-Morocco asked, “Is there no end date to comply [with bakery/take out only permit]? … this seems silly… how long before there is a cease and desist and stop and lock the door?”
Pastucha responded that they “don’t know – depends on facts in case.”
Waltz-Morocco said, “This doesn’t seem right for those who are complying.”
The Commissioners asked Deputy City Attorney, Amy Brothers to ensure that Building and Safety was in attendance at the January 20th Appeal Hearing, so that these concerns can be addressed. Brothers agreed.
Appellant Ilana Marosi said that Gjusta at 320 Sunset seems similar to 259 Hampton’s (Sauce) appeal. Gjusta is now presenting a new and different project and therefore, it should be sent back to the beginning of the process.
Marosi requested that Zaitzevsky no longer be the Zoning Administrator on this case, as there appears to be possible dereliction of duty.
Marosi said approximately 65 letters of complaint had been sent (over the past year) from CNS to Building and Safety, City Attorney, City Planning and Zoning and LAPD. In those complaints, CNS had 143 photos and 40 videos showing evidence of violations.
Tricia Keane, Director of Land Use and Planning from Councilman Mike Bonin’s office, stated that Council’s office wants to see Gjusta in compliance [with bakery/take out only permit] and suspects this delay may be a tactic [to prolong operating illegally.]
Donovan asked whether Council’s office had requested information from Building and Safety and LAPD. Keane responded, “To my knowledge we have not. Sounds like it could be informative.” CNS is aware that CD-11s former Director of Land Use and Planning’s Chris Robertson had that information, as she had forwarded that on to CNS, and Councilman Bonin was copied. Donovan said that perhaps if Council’s office asked for LAPD’s and Building and Safety’s information and records, it might spur quicker action. As noted, Commissioner President Donovan has not received a reply to his emails requesting information.
Donovan summarized that on Jan. 20, 2016 (at the upcoming appeal hearing) he expects Building and Safety’s and LAPD’s information and records to have been supplied. He also expects Building and Safety’s presence, Zaitzevsky’s presence, and Gjusta’s project revisions to be complete.
Commissioner Joseph Halper said he will support the continuance and at the same time, he noted that the applicant, Fran Camaj Gjusta’s owner continues to flout the law and this is an imposition on the community.
Waltz-Morocco said, “I am troubled that someone (Camaj) is operating illegally for so long. That sends a bad message. What’s the time frame? It seems like it is never ending. I would like to see that ended as soon as possible.”
Concerned Neighbors of 320 Sunset requests your presence, Venetians, at this hearing. You don’t have to speak – just be there. Power in numbers. Be seen. Mark your calendar now.
Camaj contends that he has an exemplary record as a good neighbor at Gjelina, GTA, Gjusta, Black Beast at 1305 Abbot Kinney. If you disagree, please attend this hearing:
GJELINA’S GJUSTA – 320 SUNSET – APPEAL HEARING
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 20, 2016 from 4:30 P.M.
HENRY MEDINA WEST L.A. PARKING ENFORCEMENT FACILITY
11214 W. EXPOSITION BOULEVARD, SECOND FLOOR, ROLL CALL ROOM
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, 90064