CITY HALL — Well-known Santa Monica attorney Chris Harding has entered the drama surrounding The Parlor, a restaurant and bar on Wilshire Boulevard that has attracted City Hall scrutiny and angered homeowners who claim it’s a nuisance.
Accused of operating without proper permits and bringing drunken late-night crowds to the surrounding residential neighborhood, the bar located at 1519 Wilshire Blvd. is facing the possibility of reduced operating hours and a lower maximum occupancy — restrictions the bar’s owners have said could run them out of business.
The Planning Commission recommended imposing the restrictions last year, but City Hall has postponed enforcing them pending an appeal to the City Council. The appeal was originally scheduled to be heard In December, but was put off until Feb. 23, to the chagrin of many residents. Now, the hearing has been pushed to March 9 after Harding, who represents the property owner who leases space to the bar, requested a postponement.
In a letter to Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor and City Manager Rod Gould, Harding requested delaying the appeal hearing for at least three months, arguing that City Hall should step in to facilitate a dialogue between residents and The Parlor before allowing the appeal to be considered.
“We suggest that a ‘cooling off’ period to facilitate additional community process, including a city-sponsored community meeting, would be constructive,” Harding wrote.
Gould, though, said he believed a two-week extension was long enough for attorneys working on the appeal to prepare their case.
“We think that the residents have waited long enough — that they deserve a decision here,” he said.
In an e-mail on Wednesday, Harding indicated he’s still working on getting City Hall to agree to a longer extension.
“We remain interested in mediation of the issues that have arisen and a community meeting process, which will require more time,” he said.
If the council decides to uphold the Planning Commission’s recommendations, the bar would have to close at midnight on weekends, instead of at 2 a.m., and would only be allowed to admit 135 people at a time, instead of 225.
Residents opposed to The Parlor’s operating practices say holding more meetings is a waste of time.
The Parlor’s operators attended a Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Coalition board meeting in January to discuss concerns about the bar, but Valerie Griffin, who chairs the group, said little was achieved.
“It was as if they didn’t understand that there are problems with the way they want to run their business,” she said.
The Wilmont group sent an e-mail to council members supporting the Planning Commission’s recommended restrictions and arguing against a further delay in the appeal process.
Far from calming the two sides down, the e-mail said postponing a decision while the bar continues to stay open until 2 a.m. “would serve to further ‘heat up’ the neighbors’ outrage, increasing the conflict and emotion.”
“If The Parlor were truly serious about a community process, they could have listened to their neighbors during the last two and a half years,” the e-mail said.
Diane Krakower, who lives half a block from The Parlor, said the bar has transformed the neighborhood since it opened in 2007.
“It got to a point where I was afraid to walk my dog at night, quite frankly, because I would be running into a bunch of drunks coming down my street,” she said.
She said residents in her neighborhood feel strongly that the bar needs to operate more like a restaurant in order for it to coexist with its neighbors.
“Bottom line is it’s not a restaurant, it’s a nightclub/bar. They may serve food but that’s not the reason why people come there.”
Several calls to The Parlor seeking comment for this story were not returned.
It’s unclear what arguments Harding plans to present to council members to convince them the establishment should be allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. He declined to discuss specifics of the case this week.
A previous attorney who represented The Parlor’s landlord, though, had said the self-proclaimed eatery did not need a “Conditional Use Permit” from City Hall because it had a grandfathered liquor license. Without the authority to require a CUP, City Hall couldn’t enforce restrictions on operating hours, the attorney said.
That attorney, Stephen Jamieson, resigned shortly after the owner of the Gas Lite, another bar on Wilshire Boulevard, accused him at a December City Council meeting of violating conflict of interest ethics standards for attorneys because he had previously worked for her. It’s unclear, though, whether the arrangement represented a conflict.
Harding is a veteran of many battles at City Hall, including a successful effort last year on behalf of a developer to overturn a ruling that declared the home of former Mayor Clo Hoover a historical landmark.