CITY HALL — Neighbors looking for immediate relief from large parties held at a luxury mansion on La Mesa Drive were disappointed Tuesday night when a divided City Council voted to give the owners leeway to police their large events rather than shutting down the operation.
The City Council failed to pass an emergency ordinance that would have halted activities at the so-called “House of Rock,” a design-house that hosts lavish parties to raise money for charities and the profile of the house itself, which will eventually be put on the market for over $20 million.
The vote split 3 to 3, with Councilmember Terry O’Day absent. An emergency ordinance requires a supermajority of five votes to pass.
Instead, the council voted unanimously to approve the same ordinance through the normal method, which only requires a simple majority and takes longer to take effect.
The proposed law would prohibit the use of a single-family residence as an event facility specifically for selling the home if more than 150 were present, including event staff.
Opponents of the practice say that Elaine Culotti and her partners are conducting a business in a residential neighborhood, an activity which is illegal and should be stopped.
Culotti holds that she is well within her rights as a homeowner, and is using a “crafty” way of marketing the house while at the same time raising money for worthy causes.
An emergency ordinance would have gone into effect immediately rather than going through the rounds of public process and 30-day implementation period, sparing angry La Mesa Drive residents from five additional parties scheduled through December which they say are inappropriate for a residential neighborhood.
It also wouldn’t have worked, said Councilmember Bobby Shriver.
Culotti’s attorney, Ben Reznik, has sent several letters identifying what he feels are flaws in the ordinance that violate her constitutional protection of freedom of association.
“The city would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers,” Shriver said. “A more interesting way of proceeding would be to continue this item to the next council meeting and downgrade it to a regular ordinance.”
That gave the council two options — hearing another emergency ordinance on the issue or going the traditional route with a second reading and 30-day implementation period.
Which route the City Council took would be determined by the House of Rock itself.
Between now and then, there are three events scheduled on Oct. 30, Nov. 8 and Nov. 9.
Of those, the Oct. 30 event caused council members the most concern.
The party will be thrown in conjunction with popular radio station KIIS FM, which is giving away a small percentage of tickets to the event through call-in contests on the station.
While other parties were invite-only or were controlled by cost — an Oct. 18 event for City of Hope cost $600 for entry — the Oct. 30 event billed as “A really SIIK Halloween Party,” will have some who got in through the radio giveaway.
Council members worried that party goers might release the location on social media networks, resulting in a horde of tuned-in people descending on the quiet, residential street.
If that happens, the facts will line up against Culotti’s ability to control the parties at her home, and an emergency ordinance will be defensible in court, Shriver said.
So far, nothing else Culotti has done at the home seems to have gotten on the wrong side of the law.
The City Attorney’s Office and Code Enforcement checked out her operation and gave it the green light, despite protestations by neighbors that she was running an illegal business.
Culotti herself referred to the home sale as a business in public hearings, including at a Landmark Commission meeting where she appeared to apply for lower property taxes for the historic home.
Neighbors have also raised questions over whether or not she lives at the home on La Mesa Drive given the fact that her husband owns a home on Adelaide Drive.
That didn’t matter too much to Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis, who led the charge in questioning Culotti and many of the people who came to speak for her cause.
“The pretense of this being a residence that has the occasional charitable event has fallen away,” Davis said.