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Signs of Studio City Corruption?

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MY STORY: FROM DREAMY NEIGHBORHOOD TO NIGHMARE-I am the resident manager of the 5 unit apartment building  that is directly adjacent to Vitello's Restaurant.  The building was purchased by my family in 2005 to be the home for my wife and myself, my parents, and my sister, her husband and three children.  Professionally, I am a non-practicing attorney and am the founder of a successful music publishing company.

My family moved into our building in 2007.  While we maintained positive relationships with Vitello's, its owner Matt Epstein and the various managers, we watched it change from a sleepy neighborhood restaurant to Tujunga Village's own version of the House of Blues.  It stayed open later and later and its focus changed from restaurant to nightclub.  When the new club, the E Spot Lounge, opened this January, it completely changed the character of our neighborhood, and made our life at home a nightmare. Both the noise level and the number of drunks outside every night increased.

When my wife was first informed of the impending opening of the club by general manager Brad Roen in late 2014, our relationship with Vitello's began to break down due to dishonesty regarding construction, the location of the entrance to the club, and conflicting statements made by Brad and Matt about the nature of the club.  

My sister posted about the club on the Nextdoor Colfax Meadows Neighborhood forum in December, and the owner accused her of lying, said he'd never open a nightclub in the neighborhood, it was going to be a "lounge”. 

My wife and I were invited to the opening night and we were blown away by the size of the room and how loud the music was.  As soon as we returned home that night, our home life became a living hell.  

Due to the club’s new sound system, we could hear the drums in our home every night. We had unprecedented numbers of drunks parking in the neighborhood, yelling and creating general nuisance every night when they left the club, which has a capacity of up to 150 live performances up to seven nights a week plus Sunday afternoons.  

I invited Mr. Epstein inside my home the second week the club was open to hear the noise, and he told me to close my windows and turn up my TV.  He made a similar statement to one of our tenants, who has windows on the alley and suffered the most annoyance from the club. 

After this statement from owner Epstein, it was clear that he had no concern for his neighbors so I started researching the legalities of the club.  I learned that they had no Cafe Entertainment Permit, as required by the City to offer entertainment.  I left a message with LAPD North Hollywood's Vice Unit about this issue on February 12, and the officer who called me back refused to investigate.  He said he'd recently been to a party at Vitello's and he thought they were good for the neighborhood. 

I learned that Vitello's was under investigation in mid-February by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.  Their ABC license did not allow them to serve after 11pm and prohibited any noise audible outside the premises.  The 11pm restriction was a shock to me because they were often open long past midnight, including their publicized "late night happy hours," New Years Eve and many of the late night performances at the old jazz club upstairs.  

On March 5, Vitello's was cited by ABC and given a 15 day suspension for these violations plus serving alcohol on the illegal sidewalk seating.  They were allowed to  satisfy the suspension by paying a fine.  After this citation, they took additional measures to reduce the noise, though it continues to be audible outside and into nearby residences. 

In early March, I obtained a copy of their Conditional Use Permit, and found that among other conditions, it required them to close at 10pm on weeknights, and did not allow any amplified music or more than three musicians.  This was a massive shock.  They had been breaking this law since the current owners took over. 

After initial resistance from LAPD, I and a number of my neighbors got the attention of Captain Carmona at LAPD, and a Vice investigation began in late March.  With the assistance of the Planning Department's Condition Compliance Unit, a complaint was filed with Building & Safety.  

On April 11, LAPD Vice observed a large amplified band playing, and club’s general manager was issued a misdemeanor citation with a June 3 court date. Sgt. Lamont of LAPD went over the conditional use permit with him line by line, and told him to stop offering amplified entertainment. 

They did not stop.  On April 15, Eric Jakeman of Building & Safety Code Enforcement observed a live amplified band of more than three musicians, and issued a citation to Vitello's Inc. with a 15 day order to comply which ran out April 29, yet on their website, they continue to offer tickets through July.  Mr. Jakeman went over the conditional use permit with the manager working that night.  But the shows continue. 

Mr. Epstein was President of the South Valley Planning Commission and a Planning Commissioner for many years.  During that time, he knowingly violated zoning laws and the conditional use permit with his own property.  I have filed a City Ethics Complaint against him for corruption and misuse of his city position as a high level official. 

I have written to the Mayor, my Councilmember, the Board of Realtors and Berkshire Hathaway's General Counsel. 

Vitello's always maintained a close relationship with LAPD, and only after I made complaints against three officers for protecting Vitello's did the investigation actually start.  

I have learned that the owners are  applying for a new conditional use permit, and the process starts with the Neighborhood Council.  

Zoning laws, conditional use permits, city planning, etc. is completely new to me and I've had to figure it out on my own.  Mr. Epstein, on the other hand, has the resources and the knowledge.  Now I am seeking the assistance of the Neighborhood Council, which includes Mr. Epstein's son Jon on the board, much to my dismay.  I also continue to fight their Cafe Entertainment Permit application with the Police Commission. 

I am one of many neighbors who do not want a nightclub in Tujunga Village.  I am the only one vocal and fearless enough to put my name on the letters, speak up for the neighborhood, and face the wrath of Vitello's for their illegal activities.  My wife and I fear for our physical safety due to the amount of money at stake here.

We do not want  the peace in our home destroyed anymore.  My family has invested considerable money in this building and a nightclub located 20 feet away not only hurts our quality of life but our property values. 

This struggle has consumed my life and made me physically ill.  I wrote this letter after waking up at 4:30am sick with the thought of another week of shows and the possibility that this owner could get away with this.  I have lost all faith in local government. 

 

(Joshua Leopold is an attorney and building manager and lives in Studio City. You can contact him at [email protected].  The views and interpretations of events described in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views or opinions of CityWatch or its owners or managers.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 35

Pub: Apr 28, 2015

 

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