CITY HALL — The City Council took a group of business people to task Tuesday night for allegedly running an event venue in a multi-million dollar home in one of Santa Monica’s most exclusive neighborhoods.
All seven members of the council approved a motion to ask the City Attorney’s Office to come back with specific legislation to stop the practice, which residents say is ruining the quality of life on the street and causing an imminent danger by blocking access for emergency responders.
House of Rock, LLC., a for-profit business, has been hosting large-scale events at a landmarked home on La Mesa Drive that used to belong to songstress and actress Kathryn Grayson as part of a self-described “crafty” marketing scheme meant to sell the property by the end of the year.
The house, also called the House of Rock, is a design home, meaning that different designers were tapped to decorate rooms in the house. This time, the theme was music. Each room has a microphone panel to capture sound and a professional sound studio is located in the upper story.
The business has already hosted two events, both benefiting charities, in an attempt to raise money for good causes and bring publicity to facilitate a quick sale, said Elaine Culotti, one of the designers involved who also purports to live at the residence.
They have used valet parking, arclights, a temporary stage for live music and shuttles that blocked the entirety of the street, according to angry neighbors.
There are six more events planned between now and Dec. 6., at which point the home will be shut down for sale.
That’s not soon enough for other residents of La Mesa Drive, who say that the parties go on long past the claimed 10:30 p.m. shut down and make it impossible for them to leave their homes in case of emergency.
Although neighbors have complained and even hired attorneys to help with their cause, both Code Enforcement and the City Attorney’s Office have repeatedly stated that there’s nothing to be done because Culotti claims the home as her primary residence, and is therefore allowed to throw parties.
One neighbor, Gisela Friedman, wasn’t so sure.
Friedman told council members that although Culotti said she lived at the home, the gates were often padlocked from the outside.
“That’s a highly unusual way to lock your house when you live there and have children inside,” Friedman said.
Since city officials were having difficulty solving the problem using conventional methods, the council had to find another way.
Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis and Mayor Richard Bloom brought the item to the council in an attempt to craft a solution that could put an end to a situation Councilmember Kevin McKeown described as “uniquely egregious.”
“I cannot recall ever seeing a business entity so shameless about disrupting a residential neighborhood,” McKeown said.
Davis put forward a general framework for City Attorney Marsha Moutrie, suggesting either a new ordinance specifically tailored to design homes or a change to an existing construct called a temporary use permit that would give City Hall more discretion over what goes on and how many people attend the events.
Although residents do feel that the City Council should put a damper on the House of Rock, some, like Jerry Manpearl, were initially concerned that doing so would hurt their attempts to host weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs or even their own charitable fundraisers at their home.
“I am convinced that there’s no intent by the council to in any way limit the kinds of events at our house and confident that whatever you come up with would not limit events at our house,” Manpearl said.
However, he warned them to avoid a law that caused a “chilling effect” that could limit charitable, political and social events.
The City Council will not have another meeting until Oct. 23, meaning any relief for the neighborhood is at least three weeks out.
Moutrie cautioned the council against haste, noting that Culotti’s attorney, Benjamin Reznick, would likely file suit against City Hall if he saw any potential violation of the First Amendment in the proposed ordinance.
“I have a feeling that our understanding of the First Amendment is going to get tested again, and I’m OK with that,” Moutrie said.