Area 33, an underground private club that is seeking approval to reopen in a light industrial area of Del Rey, continues to face hurdles in gaining local support.

The Del Rey Homeowners and Neighbors Association proposed sending a letter to Los Angeles planning officials Aug. 29 asking that the club become compliant with all existing city laws and acquire the necessary permits before being allowed to reopen. Club operator Donald Cassel is also seeking a liquor license.

The club shut down earlier this year after complaints from residents and visits from the Vice squad of the Pacific division of the Los Angeles Police Department, which patrols Del Rey.

“Dozens of our members have met with dozens of members of the Area 33 club during the past several weeks. We are extremely concerned about several discrepancies that have come up in verbal discussions concerning this application,” states a letter from homeowners association President Elizabeth Pollock.

At the Aug. 29 meeting, the board decided to make a few minor changes in the six discrepancies that the letter lists and they plan to take a vote before sending it to city planning officials, who are scheduled to hear a presentation from Cassel Sept. 28.

The private underground club is asking to be allowed to open from 8 p.m. until 3 a.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, but it will seek to stay open later on the weekend: 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and midnight until noon Sundays.

Cassel said there are approximately 300 to 350 members of the private club and many have been involved in preparations for the “Burning Man Festival” in Nevada. The festival, which began Aug. 29, is dedicated to “community, art, self-expression and self-reliance,” according to its website.

Resident Patty Sherin said she does not believe that Area 33 is the type of business that is conducive to Del Rey.

“Many of the surrounding neighbors are working-class people who deserve to enjoy a clean, quiet neighborhood,” she told the association board. “My neighbors and I shouldn’t have to suffer for someone else’s good time.”

In an Aug. 11 interview with The Argonaut, Cassel depicted most of his members as self-described “night owls” and artistic people who enjoy interacting with like-minded people in the early morning hours and watching a live art show, music and dancing.

He also acknowledged not obtaining the proper municipal permits when he first opened the club.

“It’s the belief (in the underground culture) that this can’t be permitted,” Cassel responded when asked why he decided to open Area 33 without the necessary licenses. “It’s the belief it’s too costly, it’s not guaranteed, and it is generally believed that in order to get the liquor license that it’s not going to happen.

“To be honest, we were just winging it,” Cassel admitted.

The homeowners association is also concerned about the club’s desire to serve alcohol.

“A liquor license is an extremely valuable property, and we have not yet seen that it would be of any benefit to our community to grant such a license to a private club,” the letter states. “The members of the club have been quite open that they need the liquor license in order to generate enough sales to pay their rent.”

Cassel and approximately 30 supporters and club members appeared before the association on Aug. 1, but the audience as well as the board expressed similar concerns to those in the letter, as well as complaints of noise, the proposed hours of operation of Area 33 and what many felt was a vague description of the type of business it proposes to be.

The Del Rey Neighborhood Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee voted 2-1 not to grant the club approval Aug. 2 due to a lack of information on a variety of concerns, but it invited Cassel back to make another presentation to the committee and the full board this month.

In the letter to city authorities, Pollock indicated that the association board was not opposed to a community of artists and their right to self-expression.

“The Area 33 members are creative people affiliated with the Burning Man community. We have no objection to creative people coming to Del Rey,” she wrote. “However, we do need to insist that any business that wants to come to Del Rey must be in compliance with all local laws and regulations before it opens its doors.”

Cassel did not attend the Aug. 29 association meeting. A message on his telephone said he would be out of town until Sept. 6.

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