The operator of a nightclub that had been seeking Los Angeles city permits to legally open in a light industrial area of Del Rey will soon be vacating the location and looking to open in another neighborhood, The Argonaut has learned.
Area 33, an after hours club that has been besieged by a lack of community support and its inability to comply with certain municipal ordinances, was cited Oct. 29 by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Pacific division for operating without live performance and dance permits.
Donald Cassel, the club’s operator, said he is looking for a new location after the latest police action. He said the building at 11281 Teale St. is no longer adequate for his members’ use and coupled with resistance from residents groups, he has decided that it is time to move on.
“(Del Rey residents in opposition to the club) don’t seem to want to welcome a positive, artistic business here,” Cassel told The Argonaut recently. “It appears to be difficult to get them to understand who we are and what we are.”
Area 33 was seeking a change in use to a 5,150-square foot nightclub from a former auto body shop, as well as a full liquor license. In addition, Cassel was asking city planning officials for a variance to permit zero parking spaces in lieu of the 52 that are required for a change of use, according to city planning documents.
LAPD Sgt. Mark Griego of the Pacific division’s vice unit said the department issued citations to the nightclub last month. “On Oct. 29, we entered the club in an undercover capacity. There was a party going on and the club was cited for not having the proper permits,” the vice sergeant confirmed.
Griego said no alcohol was being purchased or served at the Oct. 29 party.
“We haven’t served alcohol since we were ticketed (in June),” Cassel said.
In an interview with The Argonaut Aug. 11, Cassel described the club members as like-minded, artistic people who enjoy their fun in the early morning hours. The hours that Area 33 was seeking to operate would have been 8 p.m. until 3 a.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. On weekends, the plan was to stay open from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and midnight until noon Sundays.
The underground club faced a great deal of resistance from residents throughout Del Rey, many who voiced their disapproval at community meetings when Cassel indicated that he wanted to apply for city permits to operate the club legally.
“The community expects Area 33 to obey the laws on parking, sanitation, fire safety, etc., and Area 33 has repeatedly failed to do so,” said Elizabeth Pollock, the president of the Del Rey Homeowners and Neighbors Association.
The Del Rey Neighborhood Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee voted 2-1 in September to not send Cassel’s proposal to its full board.
Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Eric DeSobe said he is not surprised to hear that there continues to be opposition to Area 33, especially in light of the club’s recent actions.
“If Area 33 and its owner will not be good neighbors in Del Rey they should expect continued pressure from all stakeholders to change their ways,” DeSobe said. “If they don’t respond to that, they should expect even more pressure on them to leave our community.”
Pollock said both organizations were concerned that Area 33 might be the first of many efforts to “turn the Mesmer Triangle into a ‘clubbing’ district like Abbott Kinney Boulevard (in Venice).”
The private underground club closed in June amid protests of noise and other complaints by nearby homeowners and had been cited by Pacific division previously for operating without a liquor license and being in violation of the city’s municipal code for operating a business without permits and a liquor license on two separate occasions.
The club was scheduled to appear before the Planning Commission Aug. 24, but the hearing was rescheduled for Sept. 28 after Cassel asked for additional time to make his presentation. That hearing was postponed indefinitely, according to the commission.
Cassel said he has spent nearly $70,000 on permits and licenses and the expense had begun to take a toll on him. “After spending that amount of money, we have nothing to show for it,” he lamented.
Jordann Turner, the city planner who was working on the night club’s application, said Area 33 applied for conditional use permits for the on-site sale and consumption of alcohol and to permit dancing and live entertainment, as well as for a zone variance for zero on-site parking spaces.
“A hearing for the case was scheduled, but subsequently cancelled,” Turner told The Argonaut. “Therefore no permits were obtained from the Department of City Planning.”
Cassel said the opposition to his business plan was due largely to a misunderstanding of the way that the club’s members prefer to relax in a creative atmosphere, albeit in the early morning hours.
“We want to be in a community that accepts us,” he said.
Pollock denied that those who expressed their doubts about the nightclub are opposed to artistic and diverse forms of entertainment.
“We like having ‘creatives’ in Del Rey, but they must be law-abiding, as well as creative,” she noted.
In the Aug. 11 interview, Cassel seemed confused by the neighborhood’s opposition to the nightclub.
“I believe as a businessman that because we want to do good things, it should be allowed, especially if we’re not causing any detriment,” he stated. “I also want to set a precedent for the underground culture that I can do this by the book.”
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said the police involvement so soon after the club was forced to close does not leave him with a very good impression.
“I don’t want to close the door completely on them, but right now they’re not at a particular point where they should be given appreciation for what they want to do,” said Rosendahl, who represents Del Rey. “What we’ve seen so far has made it more difficult to get my support.”
Cassel said he feels that no one paid attention to what he calls the club’s philanthropic efforts, such as donating food to the Los Angeles Food Network.
“We really wanted to be a part of the community and we wanted them to see the good things that were doing,” he said.
Pollock noted that Area 33 is located on a street that is zoned for light industrial use and her organization would rather it stayed that way, which was one reason why her association was not in favor of the night club obtaining a license to serve alcohol.
“I would doubt that our organization ever would have supported Area 33’s application for a full liquor license, even if they had arranged for adequate parking, sanitation, etc.,” the association president said. “We would prefer to have it continue to operate as a manufacturing/industrial zone that is actually producing something.”
Rosendahl said the failure to obtain the necessary permits, combined with the neighborhood opposition and Area 33’s decision to open without city permission did not help their cause.
“They’re shooting themselves in the foot,” he said.
Griego said it was his understanding that Area 33’s landlord had begun eviction proceedings against the after hours club.
Desiree Barlow, a member of the underground club, said she understands why many Del Rey residents seem reluctant to trust that the club will bring a community benefit to their neighborhood.
“We learned a lot about doing more community outreach as well as getting all the proper permits, so this was a very valuable learning lesson for us,” Barlow said. “What we were trying to do was bring in an artistic community that can be an asset to the community.
“But we’re growing now and we have a vision and we’re excited about it.”
Cassel said he also learned a lot from his experience in Del Rey, and while he hopes to relocate elsewhere, he was appreciative of the experience.
But in the end, said the club operator, the opposition to the nightclub was too much to overcome. “They got their wish,” Cassel said. “We’re leaving.”