3/17/07
Mars or Martinis?
Wolfgang Puck Update – March 13th Hearing for ObservatoryLiquor License

A dreadfully long hearing on Tuesday, March 13th produced results that give hope that the Observatory’s concessionaire, Wolfgang Puck Catering, will need to submit to more limited “conditional uses” than what they are currently advocating. (see previous story here)

The meeting began with presentations by Puck Catering’s attorney and Executive Director.  The attorney asked the zoning administrator to focus only on whether liquor could be served, and not make any issue of limitations.  He cited the Zoo and the Autry as precedents for such consideration.

When it became clear to the Zoning Administrator that only minor “volunteered conditions” existed in the application, whereas Recreation and Parks (RAP) was actually the agency that would impose the real limitations, the Administrator was anxious to see RAP’s criteria and policy for deciding on special events liquor permits.  Of course, RAP hadn’t yet written them!!  The exact words from the Administrator to describe this were, “putting the cart before the horse.”

Proponents of the liquor license had a chance to speak next.  One young lady, a night club owner, said she doesn’t care to get out of her car anywhere in the Park, doesn’t like any of the restaurants in Los Feliz, and thought the Observatory is underserved.  Two others, both event planners, testified how terrific an organization Wolfgang Puck is to work with.

Then twenty or more people lined up to oppose the granting of the license and explain their concerns.  Leading off was Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council's Zoning Chair, who did a splendid job explaining the public’s discomfort.  Representatives from the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council (HUNC) and the Los Feliz Improvement Association (LFIA) spoke in opposition.  Gerry Hans represented the Oaks HOA’s perspective.  Many other people validated the general consensus against the granting of the license.  The arguments presented focused on the lack of limitations as a part of the license and the lack of progress by RAP regarding setting that agency’s guidelines.  Many also complained about the total lack of community involvement when the City/Puck Operating Agreement was written and executed.  Some speakers rebutted Puck’s notion that the Observatory situation is no different than those of the Zoo and the Autry Museum.  They pointed out differences from a safety perspective, from a logistics perspective, and also in terms of mission.

Much was said about the questionable need for liquor at the Observatory, and the fact that it is an educational facility with a special focus on education for children.  RAP agreed on that point, as Superintendent Vickie Israel said the institution’s mission was “public astronomy and public education”.  She fell short of saying that part of the incentive for the liquor license is financially driven, but did say a reason for catered events is to “showcase” the Observatory.

Councilperson Tom LaBonge made an appearance toward the end of the proceedings.  He suggested that the variance for the license be put on hold for sixty days. This would give RAP time to accommodate input from community representatives and to settle on acceptable guidelines.  A date for meeting with community representatives has not yet been set.  The Zoning Administrator would like to re-open the case by the end of May, pending the guidelines being finalized.

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