NOMA — A single-family home that doubles as an event venue for charitable causes has drawn the attention of the City Council after residents in the upscale neighborhood voiced concerns that the establishment is effectively a business masquerading as a residence.
The La Mesa Drive home, known as “The House of Rock,” has hosted large events complete with live music, arc lighting and valet parking for its guests and plans to throw several more before the year is out, including one on Oct. 18 for cancer-research center City of Hope.
According to advertisements for the event, those tickets sell for $600 a pop.
Neighbors have gone to the City Council to object to the practice, which they feel is incompatible with the otherwise residential street in one of Santa Monica’s wealthiest neighborhoods.
“This is clearly in violation of R1 zoning,” Diane Dykema, the owner of a home across the street, told the council at its Sept. 11 meeting.
Neither the City Attorney’s Office nor Code Enforcement believes the property is being used inappropriately, however, Mayor Richard Bloom and Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis agreed to bring the matter before the council on Oct. 2 with the goal of altering local law to further regulate the space.
As it stands, homeowners are free to hold events at their residences provided they don’t violate other laws, and they’re not required to go to City Hall for permits.
In fact, the only permits issued for the parties at the “House of Rock” are for one-day valet parking, and staff can’t limit the number of those that are issued, said Sam Morrissey, a traffic engineer with City Hall.
Davis and Bloom hope the rest of the council will join them to direct staff to look at ways to regulate what some are dubbing “party houses” to lessen their impact on neighbors, be it through a modification of an existing permit type called a Temporary Use Permit, or TUP, or by drafting a new law altogether.
That would allow City Hall to limit the number of events that could occur in a single year or put restrictions on the hours that such events could take place, Davis said.
“I’m not trying to prevent people from having a wedding in their back yard or a birthday party at their house. Certainly people should be able to use their residences to host events for family and friends, that’s not the issue,” Davis said. “Here’s someone who’s taken the house and says it’s temporary, but for a period of time is running it as a business in a residential zone.”
Elaine Culotti, the current resident of the house, takes issue with that characterization.
Culotti owns Porta Bella, a design firm specializing in custom furniture and interiors. She’s overseen the renovation of the home, which is a city landmark and former residence of Kathryn Grayson, an actress and operatic soprano singer who died in 2010.
Culotti and other friends in the interior design world redid the interior of the home in rocker fashion, installing microphone panels in nearly every room — including the bathroom — so that every space in the house could record music.
The upper floor of the 5,000-square-foot home is reserved for a professional sound studio.
The concept is that the entire house is an instrument, waiting to be played, Culotti said.
The events thrown at the house serve a dual purpose, both bringing in funds for charitable causes and raising the profile of the house, which Culotti expects to go on the market soon.
It’s effectively a fancy house-flip, and once sold Culotti will move on to a new residence.
“I want it to be exposed and for people to see it,” Culotti said.
To run events out of the home, the La Mesa house must also be Culotti’s residence, which she claims it is despite the fact that the house is owned under the name of Greg Briles, who’s connected to the Porta Bella company.
In a letter addressed to her neighbors, Culotti explains that the house will be show-cased between Sept. 15 to Dec. 6, and that the charity events were a “thank you” to the designers who helped remodel the house.
To reduce the impact on neighbors, she assured them they would hire security for the events and shuttles to and from off-site parking at Paul Revere Middle School.
Despite the attempt at outreach, none of her neighbors ever came to her with their concerns, Culotti said.
“My hope is that they do it the right way and open up a dialogue,” Culotti said.
That hope may not go far if the City Council decides to step in.
The move is less about Culotti or her events, which seem to end at a normal hour and be somewhat sensitive to neighbors’ needs, and more about the possibility of someone with less concern replicating the model, Davis said.
“I think we need to find a way to address the concerns, not just of this operation, but other people who may decide they want to do this with their homes as well and we want to control it,” Davis said.