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Santa Monica Council Wants Emergency Ordinance in Response to House of Rock
By Jason Islas
October 4, 2012 -- In a meeting that stretched into the early hours of Wednesday morning, Santa Monica's City Council asked staff to prepare an emergency ordinance that could restrict the size and frequency of large events at “design houses” in residential neighborhoods.
The proposed emergency ordinance -- which the Council unanimously directed staff to draft in response to complaints about The House of Rock, a “design house” in one of Santa Monica's wealthiest neighborhoods -- could specifically single out “design houses” and events venues and would require that temporary use permits (TUP) for large events at such places.
The motion passed by the Council also said that, if Staff deems it more appropriate, an amendment to the current zoning ordinance could be considered instead of an emergency ordinance.
“We're not writing an ordinance for La Mesa. We're writing an ordinance for the city,” said Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis.
The item was brought before the Council at the request of Davis and Mayor Richard Bloom after they received complaints that The House of Rock -- the former residence of actress Kathryn Grayson -- was being used to host large-scale events that blocked through traffic in the street.
“This could happen on any street,” Davis said. “If we don't think about this now, waiting until it becomes a problem, I think is what troubles me the most.”
Elaine Culotti, the designer whose company -- House of Rock, LLC -- bought the house in 2010, told the Council that she simply wanted to use the house to host charities and not as a commercial venue.
Over the last two years, Culotti remodeled the interior of the house with the help of other designers, each of whom were assigned their own area of the house in order to showcase their work.
She said that she does not want to make money on the charities, but that the goal is to make money on selling the house. She said that hosting the charities was “a crafty way to sell it.”
It was that phrase that concerned Council member Bobby Shriver who said that when he first heard of The House of Rock, he thought that hosting charities there was “a way of generating publicity... for a very expensive piece of real estate.”
“We do have a little bit of basis for thinking this is a commercial venture,” he said, referring to Culotti's testimony.
However, he said, “litigation and posturing in the next three weeks won't do anybody any good.”
As a result, Shriver encouraged Culotti and her neighbors to work closely with the City Manager's office to make sure that future events -- Culotti said that, as of now, there are six more scheduled before January -- are handled in a more sensitive way.
Council member Kevin McKeown, whose temper flared when talking to Culotti from the dais, called the current situation “uniquely egregious,” adding that he hopes the next time Culotti hosts an event at The House of Rock, one of her neighbors gets a permit to close off the street so she wouldn't be able to host her event.
The next event scheduled at The House of Rock is a City of Hope fundraiser where the cheapest tickets for entry are $500.
“You are rather cynically using a neighborhood to flip a house without concern for the impact it has on your neighbors,” he said, addressing Culotti.
Of the roughly 40 public speakers, the majority spoke in favor of drafting new rules about event houses in residential areas.
However, some residents worried that a new ordinance would have potential ramifications on their rights to host political or social events.
Davis assured them that any ordinance should be sufficiently narrow to avoid that problem.
“No one is trying here to say you can't have charity events in your house,” she said. “Your freedom of association will be intact. Your freedom of speech will be intact.”
Davis, who decided to bring the issue before the Council after she walked her dog past an event Culotti held for Music Unites that featured arc lights and parking shuttles for guests, said that an ordinance should specify a design house or events venue as a house “where the host doesn't have their primary residence.”
The earliest the Council will be able to consider an ordinance would be at its next meeting on October 23. If it is an emergency ordinance, it can be adopted on its first reading, but only by a super majority.
A standard ordinance would require both a first and second reading.
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