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State Erred in Granting Bistro Liquor License

Times Staff Writer

Fans of the ritzy Beverly Hills Bistro restaurant may have prematurely toasted its planned expansion into the San Fernando Valley.

State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control officials said Monday the agency may have to rescind a liquor license issued three months ago for the Bistro’s newest location at a $15-million shopping center under construction in Studio City.

State officials said the agency erred in issuing the license before a required conditional-use permit was approved for the shopping center by Los Angeles zoning officials.

“We may have to back that application up to the point where the issuance is retrieved or cancelled,” said Manuel Espinoza, deputy director of the beverage control department.

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Obeying Law

“It’s an unusual situation,” he said. “We’re trying to address the problem. The law says the department cannot issue a license when it’s in violation of local laws.”

The state’s reevaluation was hailed as a victory by leaders of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., which has doggedly opposed the sale of liquor at the proposed Bistro Garden restaurant.

The luxury dining establishment is expected to be the centerpiece of the new Center at Coldwater shopping mall at Ventura Boulevard and Coldwater Canyon Avenue.

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But nearby residents have complained that their neighborhood would suffer if intoxicated patrons leave the Bistro Garden and drive on nearby residential streets.

Homeowners unsuccessfully fought the mall’s conditional-use permit on June 9 at a hearing conducted by a city zoning administrator. Eleven days later, residents appealed the matter to the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals.

Unaware of the appeal, the state control board issued the liquor license to the Bistro Garden on June 24.

“I erred,” said F.J. (Jim) Smith, the beverage control district administrator in Van Nuys who issued the license. “I was not aware that the city permit had been appealed.”

Homeowners said they were shocked to learn of the liquor license on Sept. 20, when their protest was taken up by the Board of Zoning Appeals. On that day, the board voted 3 to 0 to authorize the conditional-use permit--provided the Bistro Garden agreed to restrict its operations and submit to periodic liquor-service reviews by the city during the next six years.

Although homeowners expressed satisfaction with that action at the time, they now say they intend to protest the zoning agency’s vote to the City Council. That appeal process would continue to invalidate the state liquor license.

“All we know is we want the right to go through the city’s procedure with fairness to the community and to the residents’ concerns,” said Rose Elmassian, a Sherman Oaks homeowner who has led the fight against the liquor license.

“The neighborhood is pulling together stronger now that they know there are laws to protect us.”

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Bistro Garden officials could not be reached for comment Monday. They previously acknowledged that the sale of liquor was mandatory to make their new restaurant a success.

But Center at Coldwater developer Herbert Piken termed the lastest roadblock “ridiculous.” Piken said 1,500 people gathered Sunday at the Bistro in Beverly Hills to celebrate the restaurant’s 25th anniversary and the planned expansion to Studio City.

The protests are “a disgrace, an insult” to the Bistro’s operators, who hope to open their Studio City restaurant in March, Piken said.

State officials said revocation of the Bistro Garden liquor license could trigger a court fight. They said Bistro officials paid $20,000 to purchase and transfer the license from a defunct West Los Angeles restaurant called Compari’s on the basis of the state board’s June 24 action.


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