Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

GWNC Land Use Committee Recommends Making Lower Larchmont a “Sensitive Use” Area for Restaurant Liquor Licenses

Based on recommendations from the Windsor Square Association (but without input from Larchmont restaurants themselves), the GWNC Land Use Committee voted this week to recommend that Larchmont Blvd., south of Beverly Blvd., be declared a “sensitive use” area for liquor permits under the city’s new Restaurant Beverage Program.


A few months ago, after the Los Angeles City Council created a new Restaurant Beverage Program to help fast-track restaurant liquor permits with administrative approvals instead of the traditional and much more complicated Conditional Use Permit process, it separated the program into two distinct tracks – one for the majority of traditionally-operating restaurants, and one for restaurants in “sensitive use” areas.  As the new rules were eventually approved, however, a specific definition of “sensitive use area” was not included in the ordinance.  And at this month’s meeting of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee, a recommendation was made that could test the new ordinance and its lack of specificity.

After a lengthy and robust discussion about how to best protect the Larchmont Village commercial district – where no restaurant has ever been issued a permit to sell a full line of alcoholic beverages – the Land Use Committee, based on recommendations from the Windsor Square Association, passed a motion to recommend that the GWNC board ask the city to declare Larchmont Blvd., between First Street and Beverly Blvd. (a.k.a. “lower” Larchmont), a sensitive use area for alcoholic beverage permits.  This would mean that any restaurant seeking a liquor permit under the new Restaurant Beverage Program (whether for beer and wine or a full line of alcoholic beverages), would – in addition to adhering to more than 50 very specific requirements required of all applicants – initially be issued only a provisional license, which would then be reviewed (with a public hearing) after a one-year probationary period. (Note that this would ONLY be for applications made through the new Restaurant Beverage Program; nothing would change for applications made through the traditional Conditional Use Permit process.)

Recommendations for the sensitive use designation were presented by Land Use Committee member Jane Usher, who also sits on the Windsor Square Association board of directors, with supportive comments from fellow WSA board members John Welborne and Amy Forbes.  All of them argued that because Larchmont has never had any licenses for hard liquor sales, and because of its proximity to residential neighborhoods on three sides, it should qualify for special consideration and protection from potential “bad operators.”  They also argued that because liquor licenses run with the property, and not specific business owners, extra care should be taken when granting liquor licenses in the area, even when current longtime restaurant owners just want to upgrade from beer and wine sales to sales of cocktails and other hard liquor.

Overall, Usher characterized the sensitive use designation as a “very small ask,” and several other local residents and committee members agreed, saying the neighborhood should take advantage of every possible opportunity to preserve and protect its longtime character.

At the same time, however, another Windsor Square Association board member, Gary Gilbert, speaking as an individual and not a member of that  organization, argued vehemently that the “sensitive use” designation should NOT be applied to the Larchmont district and listed several reasons why he thinks doing so would be a big mistake:

  • It “sets a dangerous precedent” to make any decision about Larchmont Blvd., which serves a number of local communities, after hearing only from the Windsor Square Association and not other nearby neighborhood associations, the Larchmont Blvd. property owners (represented by the Larchmont Business Improvement District), or any of the Larchmont Blvd. business or restaurant owners (or their representative Larchmont Boulevard Association). (There were no Larchmont restaurant owners present at the LUC meeting.)
  • The sensitive use designation, intended by the city to be used only for areas where there is an over-concentration of liquor licenses, would be a “gross misapplication of a city ordinance.”
  • Allowing permits to sell a full line of alcoholic beverages would not, in fact, be a big change for the street, since several restaurants (including Le Petit Greek, Village Pizza, Louise’s and others), have been selling beer and wine for decades without incident.  Also, large servings of beer and wine actually contain about the same amount of alcohol as a mixed drink, and do not (according to city data) lead to more complaints or police incidents at restaurants that have them.  “The only difference is the shape of the glass,” said Gilbert.
  • Telling beloved Larchmont restaurants, such as Vernetti and Le Petit Greek, that we don’t trust them to upgrade their licenses from beer and wine sales to a full line of alcoholic beverages without a one-year probationary period would be incredibly insulting.
  • While the concern that liquor licenses run with the land and not the current restaurant owner is definitely valid, requiring restaurants to have a one-year probationary period before granting a license does nothing to address that issue.
  • The neighborhood, sparked by the recent Larchmont 2021 conversations and the recent Larchmont 2021 survey, will likely be working closely with the CD 13 office on issues like potential adjustments to the current zoning “Q” conditions, parklets, trees, sidewalks, and street programming, which will all require careful negotiating…so asking for the sensitive use designation now “might in the end hurt our neighborhood by asking for an unnecessary and totally unjustified favor before we get to the really important stuff.”

And finally, Gilbert reported, CD 13 has already requested that all of its territory participate in the less restrictive version of the Restaurant Beverage Program, without any special carve-outs for sensitive use areas.

Discussion after Usher’s motion and Gilbert’s rebuttal was vigorous, with many committee members asking for clarifications on several aspects of the Restaurant Beverage Program before making their decisions.  Some of the main points of clarification included:

  • The Restaurant Beverage Program, which has the two tracks for normal operations and sensitive use areas, is for restaurants only, and alcohol sales must be incidental to food sales.  Bars, cocktail lounges, nightclubs, etc., cannot participate in this new program, and still have to go through the traditional Conditional Use Permit process, with public input, no matter where they are located.
  • Restaurants that do not qualify for the Restaurant Beverage Program because they do not meet specific requirements (e.g. are open later or want to serve alcohol later than the program allows) also have to use a traditional Conditional Use Permit process.
  • All restaurants applying for liquor licenses under the Restaurant Beverage Program (whether beer and wine only or a full line of alcoholic beverages, no matter where they’re located), have to meet more than 50 very specific operating conditions to qualify for the program, and must adhere to those conditions to keep their licenses.
  • All permits issued under the Restaurant Beverage Program (whether or not a restaurant is in a sensitive use area) are required to be reviewed if there’s any change in ownership of the restaurant.
  • The “sensitive use area” recommendation from the Land Use Committee is only for “lower” Larchmont, between First Street and Beverly Blvd. The northern section of Larchmont, between Beverly and Melrose, would still be covered by the slightly less restrictive version of the RBP (which is still much more restrictive than the traditional CUP process).

Finally, before a vote was taken on Usher’s motion, committee secretary Tommy Atlee suggested that it might be better to postpone the action until at least some Larchmont business owners could be invited to weigh in on the matter, but Usher and several other committee members said that, in their opinion, simply adding more voices to the discussion wouldn’t change the arguments.

[To see what two Larchmont restaurateurs had to say about the LUC’s vote, see our separate story here.]

In the end, the motion to recommend that the GWNC board request that the city designate Larchmont Blvd., between 1st St. and Beverly Blvd., an alcohol sensitive use area under the Restaurant Beverage Program passed by a margin of 8 in favor, none opposed, and two abstentions.

The Committee’s recommendation will go to the full GWNC board for its vote at the next GWNC board meeting on Wednesday, May 11, at 6:30 p.m.  There will be an opportunity for public comments at that meeting before votes are taken.


Other Business


In other business this month, the Land Use committee took votes on two more specific projects.


Ramen Melrose restaurant at 5784 W. Melrose Ave.


An application for a Conditional Use Permit to sell beer and wine at the Ramen Melrose restaurant at 5784 W. Melrose Ave. would allow alcohol sales from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, and would include sales for off-site consumption, with takeout food orders.  The application was first presented to the Land Use Committee in March, and at that time, committee members expressed reservations about both the late-night hours and the to-go alcohol sales.  They also requested that the restaurant seek feedback from both the Larchmont Village Association and the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, which represent the neighborhoods adjacent to the restaurant.

At this month’s meeting, applicant representative Kenneth Sanjueza reported that he did meet with both neighborhood groups, and that the Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association voted to oppose the application, based on the late-night hours and to-go alcohol sales…while the Hancock Park Homeowners Association voted to support the application, noting that there are several other late-night restaurants with liquor permits in the general area, so this one wouldn’t be an outlier.

To support the latter position, Sanjueza noted that the late-night alcohol sales are particularly important to this restaurant, which has most of its traffic between the hours of 8 p.m. and 3 a.m.  Also, regarding the alcohol sales with take out orders, Sanjueza noted that alcohol would never be sold without a food order, and many such orders are picked up by delivery such as Postmates and GrubHub, so customers would be receiving and consuming the drinks in their own homes.

After Sanjueza’s presentation, committee discussion continued to focus on the late-night and take-out provisions of the application, with no clear consensus on either the pro or con side.  Finally, a motion to support the application as presented failed by a vote of five votes in favor, six opposed, and one abstention…but a second motion, to recommend that the GWNC board support the application on the condition that the closing hour for alcohol sales is changed to midnight passed by a margin of 10 votes in favor, two opposed and no abstentions.


Vacant former parking lot at 975 S. Manhattan Pl.


And finally, applicants for a project that would replace a vacant parking lot with a 6-story, 120-unit residential building at 975-985 S. Manhattan Place did not respond to the committee’s invitation to make a presentation about their project, so – as is its policy in such situations – the committee voted unanimously to recommend that the GWNC board vote to oppose the project unless or until such a presentation is made.


The next meeting of the GWNC Land Use Committee will be held on Tuesday, May 24, at 6:30 p.m.  Items voted on at this month’s meeting will be placed on the agenda for votes by the full GWNC Board at its next meeting on Wednesday, May 11, also at 6:30 p.m.


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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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