WILSHIRE BLVD — A year since its opening, the complaints are still coming in from neighbors about SOUTH, bemoaning the noise and other general quality of life issues which they believe came with the popular restaurant.
But while City Hall has responded to those grievances by informing affected residents that the Southern fusion restaurant is technically in compliance with local codes, officials are exploring different ways of resolving the long-standing problem.
Eileen Fogarty, the director of planning and community development, said her staff is evaluating different ways of addressing the issues between the restaurant and its neighbors, including an interpretation of a current law regarding noise and what could be a more likely alternative — a new ordinance.
“We are literally right now in the midst of (weighing) the pros and cons of each to see which would address this issue and not create unintended consequences elsewhere,” Fogarty, whose department oversees code enforcement, said.
Fogarty said the interpretation of the noise ordinance could lead to further complications for restaurants that operate outdoor dining areas, possibly affecting something as seemingly harmless as a conversation between diners.
“We’re now trying to craft something that probably would be in the form of an ordinance that just gets to the issue of the music and doesn’t have unintended consequences for outdoor diners,” she said.
An ordinance could be presented to the City Council as early as May.
City Hall and the Santa Monica Police Department have received numerous complaints from residents who live near SOUTH, which is located at 3001 Wilshire Blvd., since it opened in April of last year. Their list of grievances run deep, from the decibel level of music playing in the establishment to the noise from patrons after they leave to the speed at which the valet drivers traveled on the street. Many residents have said the valet issue has been resolved.
Susan Bronstein, who moved into the neighborhood in 2005, said the problem goes beyond the noise.
“There are patrons going up and down the street,” she said. “They’re loud and drunk, they’re urinating, they get upset if you ask them to move their cars.
“It’s [no longer] a neighborhood street.”
She adds that neighbors never had issues with previous restaurants that occupied the space, including Punch Grill and Royal Star.
Adam Milstein, who runs the restaurant with partners Philip Boyd, Robyn Landrum and Chris Shanley, said he has made a number of attempts to appease the neighbors, including shutting the main doors by 9 p.m. every night.
The restaurant has faced issues with one neighbor in particular, who lives a few hundred yards to the south on Stanford Street behind Pier 1 Imports. Milstein said that the resident faces a unique issue in that the sound from the restaurant bounces off a building catty corner to the resident.
The owners have offered several potential solutions, including paying for double-paned glass windows, an air conditioner and sound proofing. Milstein added that he has hung a sound proof cloth that went around the entrance of the restaurant, covering the outdoor patio area. The cloth was later removed after it was found to be ineffective.
Kevin Khan, the resident, recently addressed the City Council during a discussion about code enforcement, playing a video in which he demonstrated the noise level at his home. He told City Council members that he lies awake until 2 a.m. every night.
Khan could not be reached for comment for this story.
Milstein said that he and his business partners chose the restaurant for its location, adding that they did not change anything from the previous operations.
“We have, and continue to operate, the same conditions that have been set here for many years,” he said. “What we did bring is a crowd.”
In the past two months, the restaurant has brought in hedges to line the perimeter of the outdoor dining area to block in the sound, but they were taken out after several weeks.
Alexander Zholkovsky, a USC professor of Slavic languages and literature who lives a few doors down from the restaurant, said that patrons have urinated and vomited in a parking garage that separates his home and SOUTH.
“I have seen several restaurants in that corner and it was never anything close to this,” he said.
Some neighbors said they would like to see the restaurant close earlier.
“I don’t go on walks at night anymore with my dogs,” Bronstein said. “I have to drive my car somewhere to do that.”
Several residents have called SOUTH a bar or night club, which would place it under a different set of regulations. The city code for a restaurant requires that food be served at all times, which SOUTH does. A bar or nightclub is different in that it charges patrons a cover fee and has a dance floor, both of which SOUTH lacks. Some residents do contend that patrons dance in the restaurant.
Milstein said he sympathizes with neighbors who are affected from the disruption caused by patrons leaving the restaurant, adding that he has cleaned up urine and vomit. He said that nine out of 10 times, the acts are caused by homeless people who camp around Albertsons.
He said it was baffling that there are residents trying to affect his establishment when many restaurants are suffering in the recession, though SOUTH has performed well.
“We are running a restaurant that employs 50 people — 50 people that have jobs,” he said. “We are able to give our tax money back to help schools, streets and programs for the city.”