Time to clean my plate of leftovers from 2011.

Last summer, Sonny McLean’s owner Grant Woods applied for a City Hall Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for full bar alcohol sales along with extended operating hours, live entertainment and other improvements for his restaurant.

The CUP is necessary for a California Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) license so Woods can add hard liquor to his existing beer and wine service at 2615 Wilshire Blvd.

I’ve never been in Sonny McLean’s, however I know it’s a “Boston Bar” drawing a big crowd when the Celtics, Bruins or Red Sox are on TV — so much so that during sporting events, neighboring residential streets more than two blocks away are fully parked with customers’ cars. 

The Planning Commission reviewed Woods’ application at their Dec. 14 meeting which I watched last week on streaming video on City Hall’s website. Wood’s seemed like a down-to-earth guy who has owned McLean’s for “a couple of years.” He said he needed the upgrades to keep the business running.

About 10 or 12 members of the public (McLean’s customers) addressed the commission. Some were neighbors and others — many working in the entertainment industry — were regulars from outside Santa Monica. All said it was a friendly, neighborhood place, with good food, good drink and good company. They urged granting Woods’ application. 

Although there was correspondence from a couple of neighbors in the staff report (out of more than 50 letters) complaining about occasional noise or drunks, no complainers spoke out at the hearing.

A restaurant was first established at the location in the 1950s. At some time between 2000 and present day, modifications to the interior were made without permits. A total of 68 seats were added for a present day total of 142 seats. In addition, changes were made to the interior layout and entertainment such as karaoke or small band/live music had been added.

Commission members agreed with the public, describing Sonny McLean’s as the kind of use to be encouraged — “a place where people can go to a pub, bar or restaurant at nine or 10 after work,” said one commissioner. 

The CUP application for full bar was approved five to one. Additional conditions affecting hours of operation, noise mitigation and the ratio of alcohol to food sales were attached.

Despite having 148 seats and additional standing room, only eight cars can park on-site. That problem was ignored in favor of adding bike racks “so people wouldn’t have to drive there.” Do commissioners really think nobody will ride bicycles home, impaired? Just asking.

While I believe that Woods is a good operator, I differ with commissioners who claim that Woods’ good track record with virtually no serious police complaints in the last three years, would continue unabated when spirits are available. Hard liquor should draw more customers and could result in radical and unwelcome changes in clientele from the current, amiable, “neighborhood beer-’n-wine” crowd.

With a full bar CUP and ABC license, the restaurant’s value has increased. If Woods were to sell, new owners may not be as responsible or as considerate to neighbors as Woods.

We shouldn’t forget a long history of local restaurant/sports bars that have become popular such as Busby’s, the Parlor and South — a popularity resulting in crowds, litter, noise, drunk patrons, residential streets packed with customers’ cars (because of inadequate parking) and big problems for City Hall and neighbors alike.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen here.


Tutors for sale

 I received an e-mail last month from a Santa Monica High School parent asking me to look into a letter on SMHS stationary from “M” house principal Larry Boone urging parents to hire Revolution Prep, a private tutoring service.

Boone’s letter seemed to be a blatant endorsement of a privately owned business. He described Revolution Prep as having a “solid track record of helping students increase their GPAs and become more effective learners.” Parents were urged to, “Contact a Revolution tutoring specialist to discuss whether a program might be the right fit to help your student achieve his or her educational goals by calling 817 …”

Before the holiday break, I e-mailed an inquiry to Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon asking about Boone’s letter in relation to district policy on commercial endorsements.

Lyon replied that “Revolution Prep has worked with Samohi for 10 years.” She said they pay facility use fees. “Last year, those fees were $37,000.” Lyon said the fees “are reduced for free test prep classes and tutoring for SMMUSD students …"Scholarships of students/services totaled about $145,000." 

She reiterated that school board policy (No. 1700 community relations), “Encourages local business involvement in efforts that … promote academic, social and physical well being of students.”

Policy “does not prohibit staff from informing the community about businesses that are supporting schools and programs,” she wrote. “The superintendent may publicly acknowledge the support of a business partner in district communications …” But, she added, “This shall not unduly promote or endorse commercial activity or products.”

She also stated that Boone didn’t feel this was “unduly endorsing Revolution Prep as they have had a long standing relationship and involvement with Samohi students and are providing tutoring free of charge …”

I personally feel Boone’s letter pushed the envelope when it suggested parents call Revolution’s phone number when looking for a tutor. However, anytime the SMMUSD can work with outside businesses or interests to provide free or highly cost effective services to students, it should be encouraged.

Memo to the school board: We need more of these relationships.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com

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